Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dirty fuel, dirty politics

This week (August 13-17) closed session meetings are taking place between Kentucky law makers, including House Speaker Jody Richards, House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, Senate President David Williams, and Gov. Ernie Fletcher to try to get agreement between the KY Senate and House on a bill that would provide tax incentives to companies that convert coal into synthetic fuels -- the primary beneficiary of this legislation would be Peabody Coal.
"Peabody Energy has said it is considering building a $3 billion plant to convert coal into synthetic natural gas in Western Kentucky. If lawmakers pass an incentive bill this summer worth hundreds of millions of dollars, Peabody executives have said they will recommend to their partners that Kentucky be the only location considered for the plant." from Kentucky Poll Watchers
The legislation has already passed the Kentucky Senate, and is awaiting passage by the KY House.

There are many concerns that have been raised about this project. Those specifically related to environmental issues include:
a) providing huge subsidies to create plants for the conversion of coal to a liquid fuel (a process that requires huge amounts of water and energy, is very expensive, and largely an unproven process) distracts us from developing alternative sources of energy (e.g. solar and wind);
b) liquid fuels created from coal will put more CO2 (a green house gas) into the atmosphere than burning petroleum fuels does now;
c)developing such a project will put even greater pressure to use destructive methods of coal mining such as mountain top removal, to get the most coal in the cheapest way.

Broader issues include that: a) hundreds of millions of dollars of tax subsidies (currently estimated at about $300,000,000 over 10 years), for a plant that would, at most hire 125 workers full-time; b) most of the tax subsidy would come from that portion of Kentucky coal severance taxes that are redistributed directly to coal producing counties for economic development activities -- which would mean less revenue available to coal producing counties.

The United States Congress has recently rejected two bills to subsidize the use of coal to produce liquid fuels. The only reason that the Kentucky House has not passed this bill is because of political wrangling over who will get "credit" (Republicans through Governor Ernie Fletcher) or the Democrats. The thing that I find so flat out amazing is that any one any where would consider wasting so much tax revenue on such an outright piece of corporate welfare, to subsidize a product that will only damage Kentucky and the planet to be a political bonus. Yet some how, Kentucky politicians, seem to think that getting 125 jobs (at a tax revenue cost of about $240,000 per job per year for 10 years!) is a political plus and will garner them votes.

What really disturbs me is that Kentucky's politicians just might be right -- they just might earn some votes from this environmental and fiscal disaster. Yup! Odiyya is right.

More information about the environmental and taxation issues, you might wish to check out the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth website.

6 comments:

E. R. Dunhill said...

Sue,
It concerns me that the Bush administration (and its allies in both industry and other political arenas) have repeatedly lumped renewable sources of energy together with “alternative” sources, like clean coal. I’ve stood in abandoned surface mines in PA, WV, and LA. I’ve seen the Centralia, PA coal fire with my own eyes. I’ve witnessed the destructive effects of acid mine drainage, the result of mines closed decades before I was born, on small streams in MD. My family in rural Louisiana has been victim to the avarice of US chemical companies who did not hesitate to exploit, and even threaten with violence, poor people who they believed were beneath them. If a technology exists for "clean" coal, it has never reached any of these places.
With increased interests in mountaintop removal mining, the environmental, cultural, and ethical impacts of coal mining have broadened. Carbon issues aside, we cannot replace oil with coal until coal can be extracted without disrupting peoples’ homes and livelihoods, or making major, irreversible changes to the natural environment.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Sue,
Off the subject: Can you recommend a good survey text on political ecology?

Thanks,
erd

Sue said...

ERD, hmmm, "political ecology" that's a new term to me. Do you mean environmental politics, or politics of the environment? In sny case, I'm not aware of any "good survey texts." There is a book by Jacqueline Vaugh Switzer Environmental Politics: Domestic and Global Dimensions that is 17 years old (published in 1994), so it has more historical interest, and to be honest didn't interest me all that much in 1994. The Dollars and Sense Collective in Boston has a slim volume with a political economy approach called The Environment in Crisis Third Edition out 2005 Edited by Daniel Fireside, Toussaint Losier, Adria Scharf, Thad Williamson, and the Dollars and Sense Collective. I've found that to be useful.

My own thinking about the political processes surrounding environmental issues evolved over the past thirty years have roots in many places, but two key sources are James O'Connor and his view of the state as embodied in The Corporations and the State (1974) and John Gaventa Power and Powerlessness, O'Connor later founded an entire socialist environmental theory movement through a journal entitled "Capitalism, Nature, Socialism."

E. R. Dunhill said...

Sue,
Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll be sure to check out The Environment in Crisis and the journal you mentioned.
As for “political ecology”, I suppose it’s just one more way to describe what so many natural and social scientists are doing. The term seems to live in the domain of geographers and anthropologists: AAG has a Cultural and Political Ecology group, there’s a J of PE published (I think) out of U of AZ’s anthro department, and I’ve read a little of Martha Geores’ work on the subject out of U of MD’s geography department. Owing to its academic home, there seems to be a healthy dose of spatial reasoning in PE.

Sue said...

ERD -- over the past thirty years, I've decided that the real difference between sociology, anthropology, and geography is not our ideas or our theories or what we study -- it's what we read. Each discipline seems to be primarily defined by a body of literature and the terminology and concepts of that literature. We often miss out on valuable ideas, and people working on the same things because we get locked into these self sustaining disciplinary worlds. I will have to look for Martha Geories work, because that spatial component is very important. I personally feel that what is called Environmental Sociology is little more than the sociology of the social movement of environmentalism. I suspect that the course I teach (called Population, Resources and Change) would fit more in line with things happening in geography, than sociology.

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