Posted by: JohnnyRook | December 16, 2008

West Virginia Continues its Suicide by Coal at Taxpayer Expense

Not so long ago, you could justify coal’s dark side with a single word: jobs. In the 1920’s when more than 700,000 workers worked in the mines, it was plausible to argue that miners were the backbone of the economy. Today there are more florists in America than coal miners. And if coal mining were the sure-fire ticket to wealth and prosperity that many in the industry claim, West Virginians would be dancing on gold-paved streets. Over the past 150 years or, more than 13 billion tons of coal have been carted out of the Mountain State. What do West Virginians have to show for it? The lowest median household income in the nation, a literacy rate in the southern coal fields that’s about the same as Kabul’s and a generation of young people who are abandoning their home state to their fortunes elsewhere. [From: Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future pp. XX-XXI by Jeff Goodell

Despite these dismal facts, the Banana Coal Republic of West Virginia continues to put the spurs to the horse it rode in on even though the beast died long ago.

The Charleston Gazette is reporting that a new coal-to-liquid-fuels plant will cost West Virginia taxpayers 600 million dollars.

Complete details of incentives for the TransGas Development Systems LLC project have not been made public [emphasis–JR] by Commerce Secretary Kelley Goes or by the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, which is also backing the proposal.

But under existing law, the $3 billion plant would be eligible to receive tax credits worth 20 percent of its capital investment, or $600 million.

Developers could take all or a portion of those credits, and would also be eligible for a variety of other incentives, including assistance for employee training and various infrastructure needs.

Ted Boettner, director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, noted that the $600 million in tax credits would amount to $3 million per job if the facility creates the 200 permanent jobs it promises [emphasis–JR].

A proposed coal-to-liquids plant being touted by Gov. Joe Manchin for Mingo County (at $21,347 the median household income in Mingo county is about 57% of West Virginia’s statewide median income, which ranks last in the nation)could receive at least $600 million in tax breaks under West Virginia’s existing economic development incentives programs.

Complete details of incentives for the TransGas Development Systems LLC project have not been made public [emphasis–JR] by Commerce Secretary Kelley Goes or by the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, which is also backing the proposal.

But under existing law, the $3 billion plant would be eligible to receive tax credits worth 20 percent of its capital investment, or $600 million.

Developers could take all or a portion of those credits, and would also be eligible for a variety of other incentives, including assistance for employee training and various infrastructure needs.

Ted Boettner, director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, noted that the $600 million in tax credits would amount to $3 million per job if the facility creates the 200 permanent jobs it promises [emphasis–JR].

The lack of transparency in the process was highlighted by events at Governor Joe Manchin’s second West Virginia Energy Summit at Stonewall Resort.

After banning television cameras from the morning events at the energy summit, the governor’s staff led media into an adjoining room for a news conference by Manchin and TransGas President Adam Victor. Later, Victor was given a featured speaking slot at the summit. [emphasis–JR]

Victor told reporters the plant would be a “near-zero emissions facility” that would capture sulfur, mercury and other “regulated pollutants” [remember that the Bush administration does not consider CO2 to be a “regulated pollutant” under the clean air act, despite a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary–JR]before they go out a stack.

TransGas plans to capture carbon dioxide emissions, but does not have a plan for disposing of them once it does. Victor said his firm hopes to persuade the federal government to grant it a right of way to send carbon dioxide through interstate pipelines to the Texas coast, where it could be pumped underground to help force out more oil and gas, and be safely sequestered. [This is pie-in-the-sky stuff that will never happen It is so typical of coal projects that try to get around CO2 restrictions by making promises based on a technology that does not currently exist commercially and may never.–JR]

Manchin had made luring liquid coal plants to West Virginia the top priority of his energy plan. Some scientists, energy experts and environmentalists say that without carbon dioxide controls, such plants could emit twice the greenhouse gases of gasoline, generating carbon dioxide when coal is turned into liquid fuel as well as when that liquid fuel is burned [emphasis–JR].

Joe Lovett, director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, said tax breaks for the TransGas project would be a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”

“This plant will generate much more greenhouse gases than a petroleum processing facility, and at a time when the federal government is considering restricting carbon dioxide emissions, for the state to support a project that’s not going to sequester its carbon dioxide emissions is like throwing tax dollars out the window,” Lovett said. “It makes a lot more sense to spend that money diversifying West Virginia’s economy in preparation for the carbon-constrained world.” [emphasis–JR]

This proposal is just another coal industry ripoff of the taxpayers. Three million dollars a job? And how much will those jobs pay? Many underground coal miners in West Virgina make around, I kid you not, $13.00/hour. In a county as depressed as Mingo the wages are likely to be at third-world levels. Coal mining in West Virginia is a dying profession made possible only by the worst sort of exploitation. On average a West Virginia coal miner is one tenth as productive as a Wyoming coal miner.

And besides the economic waste and exploitation, there is the environmental destruction. Mountaintop removal is the bane of Appalachia destroying ecosystems, ruining water supplies, threatening rural inhabitants and their homes with flooding, falling boulders and landslides. Slurry impoundments leak lead, arsenic, beryllium and selenium into wells where levels of these toxic metals sometimes exceed federal limits by 500 per cent (Goodell p. 41).

Mountaintop Removal

It is hard to imagine a more backwards proposal. Think what 600 million dollars could do for West Virginia school system or for public health services. Instead, it will be wasted on an industry with no future. Soon we will have either a carbon tax or cap and trade, and proposals such as TransGas Development Systems’ will become completely uneconomical. When forced to pay the cost of its externalities, coal, particularly in places like West Virginia, simply becomes unviable.

It is time for West Virginia’s politicians and business leaders to pull their heads out of the 19th century and start investing in clean energy that will provide decent jobs for the state’s citizens, jobs that do not threaten the health of workers, their families and neighbors, that do not destroy one of the world’s finest hardwood forests, and that do not contribute so powerfully to the Climaticide that threatens not only West Virginians but humanity (and non-humans) the world over.

Related post:
Anti-Mountain-Top-Removal Activist Harrassed for Trying to Save Her Home

Crossposted at Daily Kos

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Here’s a piece I wrote on MTR in case you’re interested

    http://madrad2002.wordpress.com/2008/09/02/going-topless/

    • Good piece Matt. Thanks for the link!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: