Last Lunge for Black Lungs – Coal Running Out of Oxygen

December 4, 2014

The Coal industry, thankfully, is starting to feel a little of what it might be like to be a black lung victim.
Not dead yet, but gasping, smothering, and flailing.  Note the contrasts linked below.
Above, what amounts to an absolutely astounding, nauseating info-mercial for coal on MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough show – complete with “God put these resources here for us to use”, a soaring eagle, cute kids, and “we like to give back to the community”.

I’ll understand if you have to pause and throw up.

The Coal Industry waves to fans in a recent television appearance.

The Coal Industry waves to fans in a recent television appearance.

Below, a series of reality checks on what is really happening out there.

Carbon Brief:

German energy company E.ON yesterday announced it was splitting the company in two, “spinning off” its fossil fuel assets. The reason for the move? The European energy market’s trend towards low carbon energy sources and services, and the ever decreasing profitability of fossil fuels, it says.

The move is being hailed as a “watershed moment” for Germany’s ambitious efforts to decarbonise its energy sector.

But why does E.ON think its new model is more profitable? And why aren’t all energy companies doing the same?

Energy transformation

E.ON’s decision to restructure has more to do with a need to do something about its bottom line than environmental concerns. E.ON’s profits fell by 20 per cent over the last 12 months, continuing a long term decline.

That was partly as a consequence of Germany’s ambitious climate and energy policies, known as the Energiewende. Germany aims to get 80 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. Currently, it gets about 30 per cent, up from about 15 per cent when the Energiewende was announced in 2010.

Renewables’ rapid expansion has made the wholesale cost of electricity plummet, and put many of Germany’s big utility companies with large stakes in fossil fuels under severe financial pressure.

The German government is also pressing ahead with a plan to phase out nuclear power by 2022. That’s bad news for E.ON, which has a stake in 11 of the country’s nuclear plants.

So E.ON decided to split in two. One part of the company, which will keep the name and branding, will focus on renewables, distributing power, and providing energy efficiency services. The other part will keep E.ON’s non-renewable power plants, and will make new investments in exploring and producing fossil fuels.


How about making utility consumers pay to subsidize costly aging coal plants? Check! That’s precisely what three big Ohio utility companies want to do. Columbus-based American Electric Power (AEP), Cincinnati-based Duke Energy and Akron-based FirstEnergy have asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to let them raise rates to cover the cost of keeping these obsolete, polluting facilities in use. In essence, they want customers to guarantee a continuing flow of income for old, inefficient coal-fired plants. This despite the fact that a Public Policy Polling survey in August found  that 56 percent of those polled felt Ohio should be investing in renewable energy sources vs. 36 percent who felt the investment should be in traditional energy sources.

“These monopoly utilities are trying to ditch free market principles and make Ohio electricity customers pay for outdated, polluting, dead-end coal plants,” said Allison Fisher of consumer organization Public Citizen. “Coal is becoming less and less competitive, and it’s unfair to force Ohioans to pay for something they don’t want.”

Luckily, the Sierra Club has just relaunched its “No Coal Bailouts” campaign in the state, throwing some muscle behind the thousands of petitions and letters PUCO has already received, including a letter from 12 big businesses such as Lowe’s, Costco, Macy’s and Staples, calling the proposal “unfair to shopping customers and harmful to competitive markets.”

To prod consumer awareness of what they could be asked to pay for, Sierra Club is launching a new fusillade of ads exposing the big utilities state utilities for trying to offload the cost of the old coal-fired plants onto customers’ bills. The campaign includes statewide radio ads, direct mail pieces, online ads and animated web gifs, along with curbside kiosk ads in downtown Columbus. The advertising will continue throughout the holiday season to help assure that consumers don’t get coal in their stockings while the big utility companies make off with the gold.

The New Yorker:

These are the clarions of an industry that has been declining for decades and is now under siege from the glut of cheap natural gas, which has transformed the nation’s energy economy. Kentucky produces less than half as much coal as it did in 1990. Thirty years ago, the state had forty-eight thousand coal miners; today, it has twelve thousand. Wyoming, which accounts for forty per cent of U.S. coal production, is in healthier shape, but, with the nation’s power plants in decline, the state’s coal producers desperately need new markets. To that end, a couple of years ago, they began looking for ways to ship tens of millions of tons of coal to Asia. They were especially eager to get their product to India, because Wyoming coal, which is strip-mined from the Powder River Basin, is low in sulfur, and India’s own coal, which is being dug up as fast as the new government of Narendra Modi can manage, is notoriously dirty.

Even if they don’t fully accept or understand the science on climate change, G.O.P. leaders do grasp the logic of the market. In places like Kentucky, coal is a risky long-term proposition, which brings us back to Mitch McConnell. McConnell is many things, but he understands how to limit political risk. Despite his own “war on coal” rhetoric, a look at his campaign contributors suggests that he knows where the future of energy lies. Prior to the midterms, McConnell was deluged with cash from half a dozen major natural-gas producers. They’re the ones—much more than Obama and the E.P.A.—who are engaged in a war on coal. And they’re winning.


Meanwhile,  even Exxon clearly has been reading the polls about rising public concern on CO2 pollution.

Check out this new ad that include this “Energy Quiz” –
“Here’s a question for you. When electricity is generated with Natural Gas, instead of today’s most used source, how much are CO2 emissions reduced?”
Catch that?  Coal has become “The fuel that must not be named.” Even by Exxon.




18 Responses to “Last Lunge for Black Lungs – Coal Running Out of Oxygen”

  1. Dr. Steve Hansen Says:

    Movie Reviews, Showtimes and Trailers – Movies – New York Times – The New York TimesScroll to the bottom for “Yes Men–“

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