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Coal power and climate denial

Steven Weissman, associate director, Center for Law, Energy and the Environment | May 17, 2013

What causes certain political figures either to deny the potential for climate change, or deny that human activity is a major cause?


That question came to mind while reviewing a new report issued by Ceres entitled Benchmarking Air Emissions for the 100 Largest Electric Power Producers in the United States. The report does an impressive job of documenting the extent to which greenhouse gas emissions resulting from electric power production are concentrated in a limited number of states and overwhelmingly result from the use of coal. But the numbers also make one wonder — how might a state’s reliance on carbon-heavy electric power influence the public opinions of public officials?

Here is an entirely unscientific way to look at the issue. The Ceres report offers the graph on the right as a way of ranking the states on the basis of over-all carbon dioxide releases resulting from electric power generation (the worst offenders are on top). These numbers are from 2011.

Right after the 2010 election,  Think Progress compiled a list of the members of Congress who (says Think Progress)  contested the notion of anthropogenic climate change. Comparing the two, I asked how many of the senators identified as climate change deniers come from the top 50% of the worst-polluting states.

Think Progress offered a list of 35 denying senators. Of those, according to my calculation, 27 come from the top 25 carbon-emitting states. Twenty-seven out of 35. That’s more than three quarters of the deniers.

This analysis demonstrates why I am a lawyer and not a scientist. And it certainly doesn’t prove cause and effect for senators who are deniers. My impression, however, is that the number of asserted deniers has grown since 2010 and the dependence of coal for electric power has proven to be chronic in certain states. While the overall use of coal-fired electric power has dropped somewhat in the last couple of years, Ceres found that in 2011, Wyoming produced 86 percent of its electricity from coal; Kentucky, 93 percent; West Virginia, 96 percent; and Indiana, 83 percent.

The burning public policy questions (pun intended) are how to reduce the emissions from the most-polluting power plants and how to reverse the course for the states most dependent on coal for electric generation. Promising solutions are both dependent on political action and stymied by current political trends.




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Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

Comments to “Coal power and climate denial

  1. I think that most thinking people will agree that we like electricity and the advantages that it gives us. The reduction in pollution that is made possible as work is performed by electricity, as opposed to fossil fuel powered engines is huge. The ability to generate electricity on a massive scale, and with a reliability that does not exist until you fund and accomplish the construction of massive power plants and massive electrical grids, is essential for modern living.

    The so-called “Biggest offenders” are actually replacing smaller and less efficient power plants, and it can be said that these states with the most generation needs, like Texas and Pennsylvania, are leading the way in reducing pollution because they have had the foresight to build large-scale systems to power steel production and oil production in the most efficient way.

    The ideals of cleaner air and cleaner water are also furthered by the most massive power plants possible and the fact that our fear of big corporate giants has caused us to also fear big power plants is the stupidest idea. It is like preferring cars over mass transit, or community farms over large agricultural operations. We all know that the best way to buy anything cheaply is to buy it in bulk, just ask Costco shoppers.

    We should applaud the engineers as we prod them to build even larger and more efficient electricity generation systems but we know that there is another agenda at play. This government of ours, once started with the spirit of free economies and free people is now so caught up with hand wringing that we consider it normal to bog down the biggest and most ambitious projects like bridges, railways, pipelines and power plants with endless “Planning” that commonly lasts years and in many cases does not result in money changing hands at any level higher that the courts and the government regulators.

    No one is ashamed of this stupid over-governmentalism more than me. Our grandparents should haul us out back with a switch and convince us that we should get to work. Not just the work of the hand wringing and whining about the possibility that this project or that project will send us over the edge toward a fiery death in global catastrophe, but the real work of advancing our current technologies to create even better and more efficient ways to generate the power that we need.

    There is no voice who will speak plainly on these climate change issues and so I will.
    Man does affect the environment of the planet every day.
    Population growth presents even more challenges to our communities globally, and we will depend more and more upon the creation of MASSIVE resource projects that are well-conceived and capable of meeting the needs of this expanded swarm of humanity.

    This internet, that has the capacity to be the link between project engineers and successful implementation, is instead used by non-scientists, and non-engineers to discuss the utopia of a zero footprint humanity, when we should forget that idea and realize that our real footprint is now an impotent group of bellyachers that teach our children about demons and monsters among us.

    They are no less the fear-mongers than were the great religious leaders of the past. The past fears of satan with his pitchfork have now been replaced with evil powers that are just as real to the ministers of our day as the unholy netherworlders were to the priests of their day. Mythical, all-powerful beings that have evil intentions, government subsidies, and no concern for anyone but themselves are just part of the new religion that you had better not deny, or you will, sadly be left behind when the reaping comes.

    It is a new fundamentalism that prefers burning wood to coal for power, that prefers endless miles of plastic solar collectors to farmland, that prefers fields of windmills to a single-turbine that can power a small city.

    This new fundamentalism calls for miniaturized, toy projects that turn rotting food into gas, at a cost that is often three times as much as using our naturally available gas, it hates the consumption of FOSSIL fuels, when that term should have gone out with the Chevron dinosaur commercials that showed how poor brontosaurs became our very limited oil supply. And, it claims to know ALL about the future… just like the priests of the past.

    I refuse to pray to the gods of these priests, I stand here with my proclamation, ready to nail it to the door of this massive church of all that is good and holy. Those who read it will judge it based upon their own predispositions, but the true seekers of a better way to live here on this planet together will have the humility to recognize that many of the biggest “problems” of our day will be solved by persons not born for generations from now.

    We free people of the earth, are doing our best, our pride in the massive advancement should not be jaded by the sour attitudes of those pastors who claim we can only advance by halting everything that is beyond their limited ability to control, to regulate and to halt any progress that is not deemed holy in their eyes.

    Can I get an Amen?

  2. @ J.K. Taylor,

    Science is about facts.
    Facts sometimes call for societal action.
    Societal action is inherently politics.

    That’s part of how reality works.
    The greenhouse effect is another.

    BTW, the author didn’t say that the Ceres report is “unscientific”, or even unfactual. Please read, and check your premises to see whether they make sense.

  3. You immediately “blow your cover” and validity by stating the Ceres report is “entirely unscientific”, which is why big Al Gore’s politicization of this non-issue is a farce. He avoids debating real scientists with facts; justifies his pseudo-facts on poor science; and continues to jet around the country “spewing” CO2 emissions.

    Science is fact based, tested; it’s theories are reproducible. Contrast this with legal (see lawyer) arguments which are always negotiable. This is, however, too important an issue to be decided by emotion and political whims. Take a look a look at an old, but short, paperback entitled Green Gone Wrong.

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