energy policy

Juicy stuff and faux grassroots in the Bluegrass


I’m kind of obsessed with Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a faux-grassroots super-PAC of out-of-state millionaires ponying up big bucks to re-elect the odious turtle vampire zombie Mitch McConnell. That is some of their artwork up there. Pretty high quality, wouldn’t you say? In the graphic on the right there appear to be issues with color balance. Why, McConnell’s challenger Alison Grimes seems to be as dark, if not darker, than President Obama. Surely some mistake has been made!

As for the “Kentuckians” part. Well well well. Don’t see too many Kentuckians on this list. In fact, don’t see any.


Anyway, while I’m sure it cost a pretty penny, the Kentuckians for Strong Leadership web site looks to have been assembled by middle-schoolers. This particular page seems to take for granted that Harry Reid is some sort of radical liberal, and that the idea that coal makes us sick is some sort of laughable notion.

Ha ha. Reid is only talking about easily verified research — and he was only talking about air pollution. Look to West Virginia to see what coal does to our water. Kind of ironic, but not exactly funny, that the current water crisis catastrophe is caused by toxic chemicals used to make coal CLEAN (for the air, sort of).

I highly recommend Excuse me, but we shouldn’t be moving on from West Virginia’s chemical spill by Ana Marie Cox in today’s Guardian. In the past I had lumped her in with those journalists who are paid quite well for their command of what Joan Didion nailed as political “Insider Baseball” way back in 1988,

When we talk about the process, then, we are talking, increasingly, not about “the democratic process,” or the general mechanism affording the citizens of a state a voice in its affairs, but the reverse: a mechanism seen as so specialized that access to it is correctly limited to its own professionals, to those who manage policy and those who report on it, to those who run the polls and those who quote them, to those who ask and those who answer the questions on the Sunday shows, to the media consultants, to the columnists, to the issues advisers, to those who give the off-the-record breakfasts and to those who attend them; to that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life.

But lately, (this is pure speculation) since she has moved from the Washington DC area, Cox’s perspective appears to have broadened a bit.

In June she issued a series of tweets name-checking Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” That’s a poem I’m pretty much obsessed with so I notice these things. “Amazing how this poem, rolling around in my mind for the past month or so, keeps becoming relevant to the news,” she wrote. More recently she has used her bully pulpit as the US politics correspondent for the Guardian to shout to the mountaintops that the West Virginia water catastrophe is a big fucking deal, certainly orders of magnitude bigger than the stories that catch the imagination of establishment journalists.

Noting that there has been a second leak at Freedom Industries, inexplicably still in business following some shady bankruptcy/temporary financing sleight-of-hand, and more of the obfuscation we’ve come to expect from West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, Cox writes:

This seems like juicy stuff to me. Yet the story, as the national media sees it, is over. On Friday, MSNBC killed a segment with activist Erin Brockovich on the topic in order to devote more airtime to Chris Christie’s traffic problems.

bumped by @msnbc as they cover Christie, 300k without water in WV & all these officials do is play political games

— erin brockovich (@ErinBrockovich) January 31, 2014

To anyone that follows environmental news, this arc is familiar: A human-interest story with an environmental pollution angle breaks through the media chatter. Cable news outlets roll clips of distraught residents. Footage the damage unspools (with or without stomach-turning images of dead or injured wildlife). There is a news conference of dubious utility. Investigative reporters find evidence of previous infractions of safety and environmental regulations. Politicians declare the need for hearings and more strict enforcement. Volunteers show up to help. Sometimes there’s a concert.

Then we move on. We move on despite the fact that the chemical leak was, in some ways, an improvement on the status quo for West Virginians: at least the residents knew there were questions about the water piped into their homes. Most of the time, most West Virginians simply live in the toxic aftermath of the daily release of not-quite-as-verifiably deadly chemicals. The mix of air, water, and soil pollution that is a matter of course in coal mining counties means that children born in those areas have a 26% higher risk of developing birth defects than those born in non-coal-mining counties. That’s not from drinking water that’s been declared contaminated, that’s from drinking water, breathing air, and playing on ground they’ve been told is safe.

The underlying crisis behind most environmental tragedies is the part of the story that we rarely hear about. Our attention is shifting away from chemical spill, as it has from mine collapses and explosions, from oil spills, and, often, from natural disasters as well.

Cox goes on to explore “a distressingly simple pattern of cause and effect”:

… for 200 years, and most particularly during the last two decades, the coal industry (and the energy lobby in general) has been as much, if not more, effective and industrious in its influence on politicians than it has been in generating electricity.

Our country has grown a vast and complex regulatory and financial support system for cheap, dirty energy: tax breaks, loopholes and the like. Researchers estimate that if Americans has to pay the real cost for each kilowatt-hour, factoring in hidden costs to communities’ health, economy, ecology, we would pay three times as much than we do today. The energy lobby’s approach to influence peddling, on the other hand, has [the?] systematic elegance of a see-saw: They put money into politicians’ pockets, and they get legislative favors back. Indeed, it has been 38 years since Congress passed any law that had a substantive impact on the use of toxic chemicals. To put that in context: in 1975, we were still using asbestos in our walls, you could smoke on airplanes and food packagers did not have to report or monitor pesticide residue levels on fresh produce.

Cox also mentions the stunning news (to anyone paying attention at the time) that the New York Times dismantled its environmental reporting desk last year, leaving “approximately 15 dedicated environmental reporters among the nation’s top five papers.” I do wish she had acknowledged  the indefatigable, jaw-droppingly excellent work done by regional reporters. (If the Charleston Gazette staff does not win a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Freedom Industries debacle, I will know the fix is in).

I was going to conclude this post by wishing Ms. Grimes well in her campaign against the McConnell machine, but then made a quick visit to her campaign web site and my shoulders slumped a little bit to read her “energy” position statement featuring boilerplate that could have been borrowed from Mitch himself.

I strongly oppose President Obama’s attack on Kentucky’s energy industry. This Administration has taken direct aim at Kentucky’s coal industry, crippling our state’s largest source of domestic energy and threatening thousands of jobs. Washington Democrats and Republicans need to be realistic about what powers our nation and recognize that developing Kentucky’s supplies of coal is crucial.

War on Coal. Please. Do not start with that. If Obama were fighting a war on coal, maybe he would have offered a comment on the Charleston debacle. He released disaster money for the Charleston, area, but otherwise … crickets.

From the EPA, that evil all-powerful slayer of the angelic job creators of the coal industry, pretty much crickets as well. The White House and the EPA are integral parts  of the “tableau of abdication” Jedidiah Purdy noted in the New Yorker a few weeks back.

As are politicians from states controlled (there is no other word) by coal. One day there will be a Kentucky politician who acknowledges the real costs and depredations of the business of coal, which extracts the coal out of the ground, and the profits out of the state. But this ain’t that day. Even with the West  Virginia catastrophe in the headlines, our state has no politicians to take the side of its mountains, streams and people against a brutally destructive business, a business that is, by any objective standards, “a loser economically, environmentally, and in terms of public health.”


“squabbles around the edges about who’d get elected, but wide agreement on the rules of the game”

Bruce Dixon’s Closer Than You Think: Top 15 Things Romney and Obama Agree On improves and expands upon the point I was trying to make in my WASSUP post a while back.

Basically, I said what is Off the Table is far more important, and more dangerous, than what the parties are arguing about.

Dixon looks back to the post-Civil War era as a comparable era of malign consensus:

Too much agreement between Republicans and Democrats has always been bad news for those at the bottom of America’s class and racial totem poles.

Back in 1875, Frederick Douglass observed that it took a war among the whites to free his people from slavery. What then, he wondered, would an era of peace among the whites bring us? He already knew the answer. Louisiana had its Colfax Massacre two years earlier. A wave of thousands upon thousands of terroristic bombings, shootings, mutilations, murders and threats had driven African Americans from courthouses, city halls, legislatures, from their own farms, businesses and private properties and from the voting rolls across the South. They didn’t get the vote back for 80 years, and they never did get the land back. But none of that mattered because on the broad and important questions of those days there was at last peace between white Republicans and white Democrats — squabbles around the edges about who’d get elected, but wide agreement on the rules of the game.

Like Douglass, the shallow talking heads who cover the 2012 presidential campaign on corporate media have noticed out loud the remarkable absence of disagreement between Republican and Democratic candidates on many matters. They usually mention what the establishment likes to call “foreign policy.” But the list of things Republicans and Democrat presidential candidates agree on, from coddling Wall Street speculators, protecting mortgage fraudsters and corporate wrongdoers to preventing Medicare For All to so-called “foreign policy,” “free trade,” “the deficit” “clean coal and safe nuclear power” and “entitlement reform,” is clearly longer and more important than the few points of mostly race and style, upon which they disagree.

Read the whole thing….

I’m going to get straight to work hammering out a clever little acronym that contains all fifteen of Dixon’s points. It might take me a while.

Obama’s energy budget — nukes get the goldmine, conservation gets the shaft

Maybe you know this. Maybe you don’t. (I didn’t, until fairly recently.) But the money for  building and maintaining nuclear weapons is NOT in the Pentagon’s budget. It’s in the budget of the Department of Energy. (Why?)

Just something to keep in mind as we all try to digest what the President means by “the largest investment in clean energy in history.”

The Institute for Policy Studies points out a few inconvenient truths (boldface is mine).

Despite Obama’s rhetoric about reshaping America’s energy future, he’s asking for a budget that would have the Energy Department continue to spend 10 times more on nuclear weapons than energy conservation. More than 65 percent of our energy budget covers military nuclear activities and the cleanup of weapons sites. Its single largest expenditure maintains some 9,200 intact nuclear warheads. Even though the department hasn’t built a new nuclear weapon for 20 years, its weapons complex is spending at rates comparable to that during the height of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s. Even with economic stimulus funding, the department’s actual energy functions comprise only 15 percent of its total budget and continue to take a backseat to propping up the nations’ large and antiquated nuclear weapons infrastructure. In fact, the Energy Department’s proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year, minus stimulus money, looks a whole lot like it did in the Bush administration, and as it has during several presidents’ tenures.

And at Grist, David Roberts notes the expanded budget for building new nuclear reactors includes some potentially ginormous hidden costs:

To the naked eye it looks like nuclear energy wins out here:

The Budget substantially expands support for construction of new nuclear power plants by increasing the Department of Energy loan guarantees authority for such projects by $36 billion, to a total of $54.5 billion, and provides credit subsidy funding of $500 million to support $3 to $5 billion of loan guarantees for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

But it’s worth unpacking this. As OMB chief Peter Orszag emphasized in a briefing call this morning, the nuclear loan guarantees are meant to be fully repaid, while the renewable energy and energy efficiency money contains $500 million in credit subsidy. So there’s more direct spending on clean energy.

That’s with one big caveat, of course: that the nuclear industry doesn’t default on loans, sticking taxpayers with the liability. That could never happen, right? Ha ha. See Sue Sturgis and Dan Weiss on that subject. Or see the Congressional Research Service (PDF), which says the “federal government would bear most of the risk, facing potentially large losses if borrowers defaulted on reactor projects that could not be salvaged.” Or the Congressional Budget Office, which “considers the risk of default on such a loan guarantee to be very high—well above 50 percent.”

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