Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 19, 2010

Climate change battle: Coal, electric rates key issues in two Virginias

By SAMANTHA PERRY

It was a shot across the bow in the climate war last week when the Virginia attorney general petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider causes and contributions of greenhouse gases published in its endangerment finding in December of last year.

Many people who reside in coal communities — and the officials who represent them — are becoming frustrated at the EPA’s seemingly narrow view on carbon emissions. And e-mails leaked from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia questioning the scientific data and methodology used in the study of climate change did not help the EPA’s public relations campaign against coal.

lll

There’s no doubt America should work toward developing clean energy. This newspaper has been among those rallying for funding for clean coal technology, such as the development of carbon sequestration facilities.

The problem is that one should not hurt this country, its commerce and, especially, its people in a sky-is-falling panic to stop the hotly debated climate change phenomenon.

A reduction in carbon emissions means a reduction in coal. In this region of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, that’s our bread and butter. The “coal is dirty” trend now popular in this country may seem cool to teens and young adults whose parents pay the power bill, but to those whose very livelihood is at stake, it’s a threat.

I find it ironic when I receive e-mails from individuals bashing coal — especially when those “electronic mails” are sent from within West Virginia. Knowing that coal provides 99 percent of the electricity in the state, I wish those sending these messages would attach a photo of the windmill powering their homes or headquarters of their non-profit organizations. Certainly if there is no windmill then these individuals are using a benefit of coal — affordable electricity — when they send e-mails bashing it.

In my book, this is hypocritical.

lll

While the EPA may seem noble to some in its perceived quest to save the planet — and that is noble, no doubt — one must ask at what cost will this goal be obtained.

Should we throw senior citizens and the indigent under the proverbial bus, and make the working man’s life even harder?

I realize our climate is important to the health of our planet, but I also understand that people are important, too. And I know that the people of this region are already struggling to pay extraordinarily high electric bills.

I also know that if the EPA gets its way with the regulation of carbon emissions, those bills will only become higher in the future. Is it the American way to let 80-year-old people on fixed incomes freeze in the winter or suffer heat stroke in the summer because they can’t afford to run their furnaces or air conditioners?

What kind of civilized society sacrifices its own people? Where’s the balance between doing no harm to the planet, and doing no harm to those who reside on it?

lll

Meanwhile President Obama is talking out of both sides of his mouth. In events and press conferences geared to the people of coal states, the president emphasizes the importance of this fossil fuel, and the development of clean coal technologies.

That is great news for the people of this region.

However, since I am on the e-mail press list for the White House (or at least I was — I may not be after today), I see comments and quotes the president makes in other parts of the country. Comments that are not so encouraging for coal.

lll

At this newspaper, we are on the front line of the climate change battle. We speak directly to the people affected by high electric rates. We hear their problems and their pain, and we empathize with both.

On Wednesday, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II issued a press release about the petition to the EPA regarding its greenhouse gases endangerment finding.

“The EPA was driven by political concerns and used questionable scientific reports to reach an outcome driven by politics,” Cuccinelli is quoted in the release. “The EPA findings of endangerment of health and welfare are hypocritical as they failed to consider and properly weigh the offsetting harms to the health and welfare that will flow from their economically destructive regulation.

“The EPA needs to stop playing politics with its regulations,” he continued. “The EPA’s endangerment finding will harm the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“We cannot allow unelected bureaucrats with political agendas to use falsified data to regulate American industry and drive our economy into the ground,” Cuccinelli concluded.

The shot’s been fired. How the climate change war will end is now anyone’s guess.

Samantha Perry is managing editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com