Monday, October 22, 2007

Coal: The Next Tobacco?

"I do not understand why there must be a long term plan for coal"- Raising Kaine

"I know you may be lamenting the tobacco farmers, but you know they are akin to cocaine and opium producers" tx2va on Raising Kaine

These are just but two thoughts expressed recently in a post at , a Virginia progessive blog in a post aimed at advocating the elimination of coal as a means of creating energy through the use of natural resources.

I want to premise my post today with a few things:

First, it was my dear mother who taught me the value of the environment. She taught me the values of conservation and ecology beginning at a very young age. In 1975 I was capturing rain water, creating compost beds, testing water levels in small little test tubes, learning all about the values and consequences of excessive nitrogen, recycling all wood products, and crop rotating to promote the soil. This was 1975. This was just before the push toward long lines for gasoline during the Carter Administration. Even then, my mother now in her eighties knew the benefits of being an environmentalist. It was not based on political agendas but ecological concerns on what the individual could do in order to limit negative impacts on the environment.

Second, I was raised in Chesterfield County which was home to America's first coal mine and first railroads in Virginia history. I remember playing down by the coal pits as a child along Midlothian Turnpike and learning about the history of coal mining early on in school. It was part of the great history of Chesterfield and was the first real industry that spurned the creation of this community. Of course, coal mining as since moved on to the western portion of Virginia along the Triassic Basin and further to the Appalachin Plateau.

In the current debates over global warming, many are advocating the elimination of coal mining from the great American consciousness. Much like the portrayal of the evil tobacco industry in this country, it appears that the coal mining industry is a target for the fringe or more radical elements of the political movement behind global climate change.

Today we must be careful not to confuse "environmentalists" with those who advocate using the global warming or global climate change mantra as simply a political tool to advance an agenda that at the present time may or may not fly in the face of true scientific concensus. Unlike the radicals, I wish to leave the "science" to the scientists.

You see "consensus" I am afraid is something that the radicals in this area are not interested in. This debate over climate change and global warming appears to be creating two very distinct camps not unlike the abortion debate in America. The problem with the global warming debate is there is a tremondous about of science that needs to be considered onboth sides and certain elements only what to consider what promotes the expansion of a political agenda. To deny science purely through political motivation in my view does the entire scientific community a great disservice. It matters not which side excludes scientific research, it remains a disservice regardless.

The difference I have with these fringe advocates in the environmental debate is they are not "environmentalists" at all. An environmentalist is not someone who advocates the elimination of uses of natural resources such as coal, but one who wants to limit the impacts that man has on his environment and to leverage resources in a eco-friendly manner. Thus it is the true environmenatlists who conserve water even when not sufferring from the extreme drought conditions like this year, that captures rain water for uses in gardens and landscapes, that recycles everything possible for renewable uses, that composts and undertands the symbiotic relationships between man and earth. The advocacy that man is a merely parasitic is quite disturbing to the environmentalist.

The issue of coal was raised at Raising Kaine as one of the natural resources that we should simply dismiss and end as a viable source for energy in large part because of its impacts on the environment. In short "this stuff kills the planet"-RK). Certainly coal has it drawbacks to be sure, but we cannot leave people solely with the images of the strip mining of old. Technology is coming into this industry as well and though we have not as yet been able to adequately address carbon capture yet, we can all agree that we need to be heading down that road.

The radicals simply see these things as a means to an end. Its an easy premise really. Eliminate coal plants and mining and we will clean up the environment by reducing all the negative impacts on Mother Earth. But lets take a look at coal.

The role of coal was crucial for America, not unlike tobacco in the South I might add. 80% of all the coal mined is coverted into electricity in this country. 90% of our nations fossil fuel reserves are related to coal and coal represents a tremondous source for synthetic gas and oil in the future as we advance technology. 46% of all the the generated electricity comes from coal. But energy or electricty is not the only benefit of coal. One of the biggest is the creation of steel.

67% of all global steel is produced through Basic Oxygen Furnaces (BOF) and it takes about 630kg of coal to produce 1,000kg of steel. 33% of steel is produced from Electric Arc Furnaces (EAF) which require the uses of coal to generate the electricity. Frankly, coal is indispensible to the production of both Electricity and Steel.

The radical advocation of destroying the coal industry in the countries is yet another example of how the people running these campaigns truly ignore the economic and natural impacts of such propositions. What we find is that on the one hand they make these assertions and then the same group wants to ignore the fact that we have already seen 50% of our manufacturing base in this country has been lost and we are currently purchasing most of our steel abroad. This is simply another avenue toward globalization, which is fine if you recognize that once we are forced to rely on the world for things we can produce here through our own natural resources we will be obligated politically in the world to protect those interests.

This is why such advocacy does not fly in the face that the same group opposes our dependence on foriegn oil and yet refuses the exploration of oil in California and Florida and refuses to allow the wind farms they advocate from being constrcuted in places like Massachusetts and yet want us to turn our backs on 46% of our generated electrical capacity. As to exploration, Raising Kaine asserts that "its not going to solve our addiction to foriegn oil and its not going to save the ice caps from melting". Interesting.

So the only way we can reduce our dependenceon foriegn oil is by eliminating coal plants and focusing on sustainable non-carbon based and non-fossil fuel based resources of scale? Mind you, the same advocates seem reluctant to speak toward the value and significance of Nuclear power like the North Anna Power Station. It amazes me how a Virginian can on the one hand speak to continue the destruction of the economy of Southwest Virginia and then dismiss the benefits of nuclear power.

We have seen this before folks and Virginia was a big loser. Virginia though it produces FOUR times as much coal as it consumes is losing ground competitively with other states but are still producing 30 to 40 million tons of coal annually. Raising Kaine, I wonder how all that coal is tansported? I wonder what the impact would be on jobs in Virginia if CXS and Norfolk Southern. Two thirds of all Class 1 rail traffic is coal in Virginia and not to mention our ports. Nationally coal traffic represents 40 to 50% of our rail traffic. So the economic factors of advocating the elimination of coal is tremondous. Of course the answer coming from the advocates is that new jobs will be created in the new industries through technology innovations. That may be so, but here in Virginia we know what happened to our small town economies with the passage of the Clean Air Act in the 1980's. The jobs have never been replaced. The legislation made it more difficult for Virginia coal mining because much of our coal is harder to access and the result of the low sulfur standards lowered the supply coming from Virginia in large part because other states had greater "surface" coalbeds. Fact is some of these communities have the highest unemployment rates in Virginia since the early 1990's once the effects of the legislation made its way through the industry in terms of costs.

Look I am a supporter of doing anything that is environmentally symbiotic. In the end we have to but things on balance with our families and communities. I have seen this advocacy before in terms of the political attack machines against the tobacco industry, the increased rhetoric against the oil companies and now the advocacy of taking down the coal industry without any concern for the economical impacts on our communities. If we are not careful we will see coal replace tobacco as the next target. These folks have a roadmap as outlined by the success against the tobacco industry in the last fifteen years. We can ill afford to allow the radical fringes, which in fact are more entrenched and vocal, to push forward an agenda that is bad for America in the name of environmentalism.

Full disclosure: I support the advancement of carbon capturing technology, support to move to hybrid vehicles, support the use of solar and wind technologies, support the use and development of biofuels and support for the exploration of oil within our own borders and do not believe the people of Louisiana should bear the burden alone, support Nuclear Power as well as any renewable technology that will allow us to leverage our natural resources in an environmental way. The problem is they think I am a radical. Go figure.


Anonymous said...

I have seen the results first hand after the legislation of the 80's and its regulations against the industry. Virginia lost almost ten thousand jobs as a result of the Clean Air Act.
The miners were not afforded the opportunity to be re-trained nor was another industry going to come in when the plants closed or cut the employee rolls in half. The local economies were devastated.
It is so easy for these peole to talk about the Planet in Peril and never once consider that they are talking about real people with real families. They are only focused on reducing climate change no matter what the cost to our citizens. They are so anti-industry and anti-business its ridiculous. It is not the environment that employees people; people employ people.
They have destroyed tobacco as well as the manufacturing base with their regulations and trade agnedas under Clinton like NAFTA. Just drive down I95 through Lumberton,NC. I remember when that area was booming. Now it is all but dead. And for what?
These advocates have obviously never visited southwestern Va and driven through the town or spoken with any of the people and yet feel they can paint such broad strokes with rhetoric about training them with new technology. They have heard it before. They have been lied to before as well.

I would be interested in knowing exactly what States would be impacted the most by such advocacy?

Anonymous said...

RK is a liberal rant of the ranks of DailyKos. It is Virginias version of trashing anything and everything that they pressume to be from the GOP. It does not matter if the position would benefit Virginia. They seek to merely discredit anyone regardless of truth based on party lines. If you read the predictions for the election it has every Democrat winning. The presume that there was something underhand when the Governorship went to the GOP in LA. No facts or evidence of course to lend to such charges.
I noticed you have RK linked to this blog. I am not sure why you would even reference such blogs let alone link to it on your blog.
Closing coal plants. Yeah these liberals really have a plan for the future of Virginia.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please tell us why the issue of the polar ice cap melting is more important than the health and welfare of our families? Why must these Al Gore worshipers ignore their most inconvenient truth; the majority of Americans believe they are all completely crazy!!!
Getting rid of coal is about as likely as getting rid of water.

AlterofFreedom said...

A few points:
In terms of state economics. The follwoing states have the greatest coal prodcution; KY, WV, WY all with 100 million short tons per year followed by TX and PA in the 50 to 100 range. This range along with the 25 to 50 million range impact quite a few states.
In 1990 VA was 46.5 million tons and now is down to 31 million due in large part to a reduction in mines. ASgain most of the mines out west in WY are surface mines and are easierto mine than that of Virginia's which are buried deep in the ground. It takes alot more to get at these and thus the industry was hit hard with the sulfur reducing regulation of the Clean Air Act.
Second and to the point of Raising Kaine. I link to that blog as an effort for people to see just what it is that the liberal, progressive movement in Virginia is advocating. I believe that we should expose ourselves and be open to listening to all voices in any debate that impacts the future of our State. Of course, Raising Kaine is not coming from a conservative viewpoint but nonetheless doesnot been that they do notbring something of substance to the table. We are all Virginians first. We simply need to remind them of that from time to time.
The comment to the ice cap melting is legitimate. I do not believe that thye have made a solid enough case as of yet to justify saying that the water levels are going to rise in such a short period of time as they suggest. They truly do not have the science yet to back that claim up. In fact, if you go along the eastern seaboard must feel that there is an erosion problem without rising water levels impacting the coastline.
In term sof my use of the word "radical" I do not mean to imply these folks are like the "truthers" who believe that the World Trade Center and 9/11 was the work of our government but they are certainly radical within the environmental community. Calling for the elimination of coal is proof enough in my book.

J. Scott

Anonymous said...

Has the MSM sold out to these crazies or what? I was listening this morning as the global warmists blame the fires in California on climate change. Are you kidding? fact is it is these people who have prevented the clean up of the underbrush in our National Parks, they have allowed the beetle bugs to kill trees resulting in the torches on the ground we are watching on television, have removed sought to remove all the wolves from Yellowstone Park and now have the audacity to put the rise in bear populations at someone elses feet. These people assume zero responsibility for any of the results of their policy.
These are the same people who believe they can beat mother nature because they refuse to believe that God was the creator of the things that they are talking about in terms of the environment. So on the one hand they endorse natural selection or evolution and then attempt to manipulate the natural world and the wild by refusing to allow the natural order of things to occur.
I am not saying that man does not contribute negatively on the environment, but they refuse to admit that man also contributes positively. I agree there are things we need to do, even here in Virginia, to clean up our rivers by stopping the run off of the fertilizers and such. There are things in the legitimate environmental community that are addressing this matters in a common sense approach and not this radicalism stemming from the old Jerry Brown grassroots organizations out in California.

Anonymous said...

It is easy to use environmentalism as a rational for affecting the choices we make. Most folks do it if is easy.

When the cost is high, even environmentalists can pause in their pursuit.

If you drastically reduce coal mining and consumption for the production of electricity, then you need to have a replacement that will not reduce the amount of electricity that it produces. Hydroelectric cant just be placed anywhere. Windmills have been voted down by the liberal elite of Cape Cod Sound just because they dont like the looks, others reject to protect the birds. Solar is gaining ground but not fast enough to replace coal. Nuclear is the least green house gas polluting of the major sources of power that can be brought online in the near future but it is a gamble that scientist will ever come up with a safe waste disposal method. Europe uses nuclear for a large portion of its energy needs.

Back to the cost of choices. It is easy to dismiss environmentalists when they themselves still consume as much energy as the common person, or in some cases like Al Gore, more than the common person.

We all want our back yards and ponds to be clean, but the real test is what people are willing to pay.

Like most things, if it is cheap it gets wasted. The way to save anything is to make it so expensive people will change their habits.