National Coal Expert: “Mining is a Loser” in Practically Every Way

Originally posted at The Great Energy Challenge blog

Anytime coal’s cost to America is discussed, the coal industry reflexively talks about what an economic lifeline it is for the states in which it operates. Headwaters Economics, a Bozeman-based think tank focusing on natural resource issues, has a solid new study that’s getting national attention for undercutting those claims. For instance, the Headwaters study finds that “[f]ossil fuel production has not insulated energy-producing states from fiscal crisis,” that “[f]ossil fuel extraction has a limited influence at the state level on economic indicators such as GDP by state, personal income, and employment,” and that “[t]he volatility of fossil fuel markets poses obstacles to the stability and long-term security of economic growth in energy-producing regions.”

This is a problem for the coal industry, which spends heavily to construct a fantasy world in which it’s a “clean” industry to which we should feel grateful, a vital supplier of our power, and an economic lifeline to host communities.

But in the real world, coal’s case is even weaker than the Headwaters study shows. The work of Professor Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University goes even further. His work has looked at the costs of coal mining to the Appalachian communities that host it.

Congressional Democrats Warn of Gas Fracking Dangers

Just days after an explosion rocked a hydraulic fracturing site in Pennsylvania, Congressional Democrats released a report detailing the dangers associated with fracking. Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have been investigating the dangers of fracking for years, and their new report has some startling new information about the risks, and which areas of the country are facing the biggest threats.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) summarized the major findings of the report as follows:

Over a five-year period from 2005-2009, companies used more than 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 different chemicals and other components, including chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens or are federally regulated because at certain levels they are known to be quite harmful to human health–such as benzene, lead, and diesel fuel.

Two fracking products contained hydrofluoric acid (hydrogen fluoride in water). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “You could be exposed to hydrogen fluoride if it is used as a chemical terrorism agent.” Hydrofluoric acid can eat through hard rocks. According to the CDC, swallowing only a small amount of highly concentrated hydrofluoric acid or even splashes of hydrofluoric acid on the skin can be fatal. It can cause a wide range of very serious health effects.

Many of the fracking fluids contain chemical components that are listed as “proprietary” or “trade secret,” so the public cannot know what chemicals are being stored, used, or disposed of in their communities or near their drinking water sources.

Gingrich Calls EPA “A Job Killing Regulatory Engine Of Higher Energy Prices”

In a meeting with Tea Party activists, former Republican Speaker of the House and potential 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was nothing more than “a job-killing regulatory engine of higher energy prices.” Gingrich was discussing with the group the best way to go about lowering gas and heating oil prices for American consumers, both of which he blamed squarely on President Obama. He also pitched the idea that the United States needed to lift bans on unconventional oil extraction, ignoring the potential consequences of that particular fuel source.

This is not the first time that Gingrich has seized an opportunity to go after the EPA. Back in January, he told the Associated Press that, if president, he would completely abolish the agency. In its place, he would create a new organization that works with businesses to help draft “friendly” environmental policies. Gingrich went on to describe how he views the EPA: “What you have is a very expensive bureaucracy that across the board makes it harder to solve problems, slows down the development of new innovations.”

Emails Reveal BP Attempted To Manipulate Oil Spill Studies

Emails obtained by Greenpeace last Friday have revealed that BP was actively trying to manipulate studies designed to assess the damage from last year’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of the disaster, BP created a $500 million fund to study the effects of the oil on the environment, and the emails obtained by Greenpeace show that the company was trying to control which scientists worked on the project, attempting to cherry-pick those who would downplay the effects of the oil.

The Guardian reports:

Russell Putt, a BP environmental expert, wrote in an email to colleagues on 24 June 2010: “Can we ‘direct’ GRI [Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative] funding to a specific study (as we now see the governor’s offices trying to do)? What influence do we have over the vessels/equipment driving the studies vs the questions?”.

The Guardian has the full emails available here.  But the new emails are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to BP’s efforts to manipulate science. Last summer, a report by the Mobile Press-Register revealed that BP was offering large sums of cash to any scientist willing to join their camp. The oil giant had been meeting with scientists from universities in the South since the early days of the oil leak, offering to pay $250 an hour to scientists in exchange for their silence on the oil disaster.

"Fracking" Shale Gas Emissions Far Worse Than Coal For Climate - Cornell Study

**UPDATE: The Cornell paper is now available in final, published format here: “Methane and the greenhouse-gas emissions footprint of natural gas from shale formations.”[PDF]

The Hill reported this morning on a groundbreaking report from Cornell University researchers confirming that shale gas recovered through high volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” will produce even more greenhouse gases than the burning of coal in the next two decades - a critical window in which society must reduce emissions to combat climate change. While natural gas is often viewed as a “cleaner alternative” to conventional fossil fuels - and is often promoted as a “bridge fuel” by environmentalists and politicians alike - the new Cornell report explodes this myth.

Gas is not just a “bridge to nowhere,” it turns out to be a highway to hell. The Cornell study makes clear that the widely-held perception that gas is the “cleaner” darling of the fossil fuel trio is a myth. With total methane emissions factored in, shale gas turns out to have the greatest climate impact of all the fossil fuels.

Contrary to popular belief, gas is just as polluting as coal in the long term - and far worse in the near term due to the higher warming impact from methane when it is first released to the atmosphere during the controversial fracking stage.  This news is certain to rattle policymakers in Washington who have promoted gas as a solution to our energy crisis. The Cornell paper is a game changer, and its release this week should command the attention of everyone concerned about our energy future.

EPA Promotes Coal Ash Without Considering Risks

A new report by the Inspector General claims that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promoted the use of coal ash without properly analyzing the risks. Coal ash is the byproduct produced when coal is burned, also referred to as “fly ash” or “bottom ash.”

The EPA began promoting the “recycling” of coal ash waste during the Bush administration, when energy companies and federal officials worked out a deal where the EPA would allow companies to sell their waste without federal oversight. The EPA held numerous town hall meetings last year to get citizens’ input on the matter before they issue a ruling on whether or not the coal ash waste should be considered “hazardous.”

DeSmogBlog and Polluter Watch published a report last year that details the lobbying blitz launched by coal producers to fend off EPA oversight of hazardous coal ash, including the suspiciously cozy relationship between the coal industry and the Bush EPA. The new Inspector General report confirms that the Bush EPA erred in its review of the safety of the widespread re-use of coal ash in many products and other applications.

U.S. Chamber Launches Covert Attacks on Their Political Opponents

Earlier this week, president Obama met with the US Chamber of Commerce to talk about the best way to create jobs in America. He told them that it was their patriotic duty to spend the trillions of dollars of cash reserves that they’re sitting on and create jobs. In the same breath, he told them that it was his duty to make sure that the government did everything possible to make businesses more comfortable and ensure that they have the perfect climate to rebuild our economy.

And the whole time that Obama was trying to break bread with the US Chamber, they were carrying out a secret campaign to infiltrate, discredit, and destroy liberal activist groups.

The folks over at ThinkProgress have uncovered emails from the Chamber’s hired men that detail the numerous ways in which the Chamber is trying to take down their political opponents.

Maine Governor Paul LePage To Roll Back Environmental Protections

Paul LePage, the freshly inaugurated Republican governor of Maine who once said that he’d like to tell President Obama to “go to Hell” and recently told the NAACP to “kiss my butt”, has announced that he will be rolling back dozens of environmental protections in Maine to create a more “business-friendly” atmosphere. The governor’s office will be changing a minimum of 36 environmental laws in the upcoming months, with the possibility of more protections being scaled back as time goes on.

According to the Portland Press Herald, some of the proposed regulations include:
- Zoning 10 million acres of northern Maine for development.
- Repealing laws that require manufacturers to take back recyclable goods for disposal.
- Reversing a ban on the use of a chemical linked to cancer in children’s products.
- Making Maine’s environmental laws conform to less stringent federal standards. - Requiring a cost-benefit analysis for all rulemakings.
- Relaxing air emissions removal standards, especially for smaller projects.
- Replacing the BEP with a system of administrative judges who would hear appeals of state Department of Environmental Protection staff decisions.
- Allowing vertical building additions on sand dunes whether or not the entire building is on posts.

South Headed South On Environmental Issues

Photo Credit:  http://www.southernenvironment.org

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) recently released their list of the top 10 most endangered environmental areas in the nation, and the results do not bode well for the South. Nine out of the top ten areas in the nation facing severe environmental disaster are located in the Southern United States (assuming you count Tennessee and Virginia as “south.”)

Many of the areas are coastal or other forms of wetlands, and leading the list is Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Still plagued with tar balls washing up from the Deepwater Horizon / BP oil disaster last year, the SELC warns that things along the Alabama coast could become much worse in the future. In addition to the current oil coming ashore, the waters in the Gulf of Mexico are littered with oil rigs, many of which are in dire condition and could cause another catastrophic blowout dwarfing the Deepwater Horizon.

Minister of Environmental Destruction Says He Will Not Let Emissions Rules Hamper Tar Sands Development

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent is off to a great start convincing Canadians that he is concerned about the environment.  After just than two days in office, he has already tried to persuade Canadians that Alberta’s filthy tar sands oil are “ethical oil” and unworthy of the negative reputation that countless citizens, politicians, and environmental organizations have given them.  Today, he’s promising that the Harper government will not impose any greenhouse gas reductions on the oil patch that will discourage investment. 

Curbing regulation in favour of profits doesn’t really sound like the work of the Minister of the Environment.  This suggests, rather troublingly, that the profits of the oil and gas sector, and in particular Alberta’s tar sands, are more important to the Harper government than their environmental impact.  Let’s get something clear: is Kent the Minister of Environment, or the Minister of Environmental Destruction? And who is he working for? Corporate interests, or Canadians?


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