chesterfield-rBy Peter Galuszka

At long last, President Barack Obama has released proposed new pollution rules that would target shutting or cleaning up coal-fired electricity plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent over the next 16 years.

The plan gives states the initial responsibility for coming up with regimes to reduce carbon through state-run carbon trading exchanges, carbon taxes, tradeoffs using renewable energy or new emissions restrictions on power plants.

While King Coal and conservative politicians, including some Democrats, strongly oppose the rules, they have been otherwise hailed as an important step in reducing greenhouse gases that are leading to climate change. “This is arguably the most important environmental rule ever written,” says Michael Livermore, a climate expert at the University of Virginia. Coal-fired plants are the country’s leading source of carbon pollution.

Coal industry and utility officials had feared Obama might come up with strict plans to immediately dun existing coal-fired plants, but the President has come up with a solution that has plenty of flexibility. In fact, one might argue it doesn’t go far enough, although environmental groups seem happy with it.

One of the reasons why the impacts on Virginia may not be that onerous is that the state’s largest utility, Richmond based Dominion, relies on coal for only 20 percent of its generation. In fact, Dominion has been planning shutdowns of its older coal plants for several years now.

Leading the list are all or parts of Chesapeake Energy Center and Yorktown that were built decades ago and are too expensive to upgrade. Indeed, according to The Washington Post, of 983 plants in the country, 63 percent are at least 40 years old. So, Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency are pretty much targeting highly-polluting, carbon-spewing plants that either are or will soon be on the shut-down list. Thus, it is ludicrous to claim that we must keep in service coal plants built when the Beatles were hot because they are needed for jobs. Why not hang on to Edsels, too?

Dominion has been busy switching plants to biomass or natural gas or building new, non-coal ones. Ohio-based American Electric Power, which operates in the heart of the Appalachian coalfields, is not so lucky since 75 percent of its generating stations use coal. Many utilities have already been achieving the carbon reduction although ones in Kentucky and West Virginia will be hardest-hit. Speaking as a former West Virginian, I must note that the economic contribution of these states to the nation overall is not that significant.

Politicians in the Mountain State predictably dumped on the rules. One who did not is outgoing U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who takes a long view.

“I understand the fears that these rules will eliminate jobs, hurt our communities, and drive up costs for working families,” Rockefeller said. “I am keenly focused on policy issues that affect West Virginians’ health and their livelihoods. However, rather than let fear alone drive our response, we should make this an opportunity to build a stronger future for ourselves. West Virginians have never walked away from a challenge, and I know together we can create a future that protects our health, creates jobs, and maintains coal as a core part of our energy supply.”

Contrast that rather statesmanlike approach with the views of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Henrico Republican, who claimed the rules were an “assault on hard working middle class families” and that it would destroy the jobs of “nearly 5,000 Virginians who work in the coal industry.”

Cantor’s musings are not quite accurate, if not downright silly. For one thing, it is doubtful that electricity rates for most Virginian – those served by Dominion – will shoot up if 80 percent of electricity generation is already non-coal.

As for the coalfields, this may come as news to a flatlander like Cantor, but employment in the Virginia coalfields has been dropping since 1991 and hasn’t been much more than 10,000 in modern times. That’s about the size of Newport News Shipbuilding or CapOne in the good years.

The true reasons why coal employment has fallen off are that coal seams have become thinner and more expensive to mine and hydraulic fracking for natural gas has made it an obvious replacement for coal. It’s not so much “Obama’s War on Coal” but “Fracking’s War on Coal.”

A few other points:

  • As Virginia prepares its carbon reduction plan it is going to have to give a serious rethink to renewable portfolio standards. These are guidelines intending to reduce so much carbon by building wind, solar and other renewable energy programs to reduce dependence on fossil fuel. Unlike Maryland and North Carolina, Virginia’s standards are voluntary. This is a typical sop to business interests but the equation has just changed.
  • What’s left of the Virginia and the rest of the Central Appalachian coalfields are going to stay on the decline but there are saving graces. What the Cantors of the world don’t tell you is that there is still a robust export market from those regions for both thermal and metallurgical coal. Bristol-based Alpha Natural Resources has been concentrating on building up coal exports to Europe, whose energy picture has been darkened by recent Russian aggressiveness. Russia supplies Europe with about a third of its natural gas and that, in fact, can be switched in part to coal.
  • What the Cantors of the world also don’t tell you is that while there will be some coal jobs lost, there will be new ones created in making wind turbines or solar panels. Doing so is expensive and progress lagged because it was cheaper for utilities to just use cheap coal and foul the air. They don’t get to do that anymore and that should clear the way for more manufacturing of renewables.
  • Getting rid of some coal will improve the health of sufferers of lung disease in places such as the Ohio River Valley. Dominion out to take a harder look at its Chesterfield Power Station, its No. 1 carbon polluter, which spews out nearly 7 million tons of CO2 a year.
  • Another possibility is putting together carbon exchanges or taxes in Virginia. Plenty of foreign countries have done so. In the U.S., the states leading the way are the most progressive, such as those in New England, Maryland and California. Such exchanges helped reduce ozone-harming nitrous oxides back in the 1990s using, in part, market exchanges.

Guess who led on that? A Republican named George H.W. Bush. Who knew?

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29 responses to “Thank God for Obama’s Carbon Rules”

    1. larryg Avatar

      how does too much nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay become “pollution”?

      Do you think nitrogen and phosphorous cause harm to life?

      are we taking a consistent approach to these issues?

      If carbon dioxide does not harm lungs then does nitrogen not harm harm aquatic life either and the Chesapeake Bay Act is also a scam?

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I didn’t say carbon dioxide itself is a direct contributer to lung disease. What I said was that getting rid of some coal generation will make for healthier air. No question there:

  2. Peter, I responded to the following: “Dominion out to take a harder look at its Chesterfield Power Station, its No. 1 carbon polluter, which spews out nearly 7 million tons of CO2 a year.”

    I understand the arguments on coal and the many chemicals released when it burns. I didn’t get the CO2 piece vis a vis lung disease.

    1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
      Tysons Engineer


      Its not an exclusive thing. It doesn’t just spew 7 million tons of CO2 per year, it also spews a whole host of nasty local air pollutants as well from NOx to trace mercury. So shutting down aging coal plants does two things, reduces CO2 output (good for non-localized) and completely removes those extremely hazardous local air pollutants for neighborhoods downwind as well, as most other sources (ie nat gas which is the likely replacement) have none/fraction of the same local air pollutants.

      I know you stated you understand this, but it’s important to note again. Its an indirect, not direct, effect of the policy.

      1. TE I am only taking issue with Peter’s statement about CO2 affecting lungs. I am not arguing about other chemicals in my question. I’m not even asking any questions about climate change. I asked a legitimate question, which is being dodged. How does CO2 have a negative impact on people’s lungs?

        1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
          Tysons Engineer

          And I’m saying, no where in his post does he say it does. He says and I quote

          “Getting rid of some coal will improve the health of sufferers of lung disease in places such as the Ohio River Valley”

          He goes on to say in the next sentence

          “Dominion out to take a harder look at its Chesterfield Power Station, its No. 1 carbon polluter, which spews out nearly 7 million tons of CO2 a year.”

          That being, that Dominions number 1 carbon polluter should be reviewed for whether it is causing localized health problems for lung disease as well. The fact it is the number 1 carbon polluter doesn’t have to be the reason why it needs to be reviewed, it is simply saying that it is in fact the biggest CO2 polluter (and likely the biggest other pollutant polluter also).

          You are incorrectly putting words in his mouth in my opinion. His sentence is akin to saying “GM should review its top selling truck to determine if the ignition failure has been solved”. The top selling component of that adds information about which truck, and perhaps raises the level of why it is important, without having to be a causal element to the ignition failure itself.

  3. larryg Avatar

    here’s the question – related to TMT’s narrative.

    how much mercury pollution will be reduced?

    how much particulates will be reduced?

    then a question . – how did it come to be that coal plants were “upwind” of some kinds of neighborhoods and not “upwind” of others?

    If NoVa were forced to produce electricity within their own region – how would they feel about being “downwind” of a coal plant of sufficient size to power NoVa?

    does this mean that NoVa is subsidized by other “downwind” localities who eat the pollution that comes from powering NoVa?

    how about the policy be directly about downwind pollutants like mercury and particulates and how those things do not fall on the folks who benefit from the electricity but don’t bear the cost of the pollution?

  4. TBill Avatar

    Virginia’s future approach will be interesting to watch, but as Peter notes, VA appears to be relatively lower carbon intensity. However, Maryland is listed as a bigger user of coal…I am very interested to see how MD handles this, and also I’ll be interested to see if MD can meet its (ambitious?) RPS goals.

    1. larryg Avatar

      I was sorta wondering if Va would be penalized for already being a lesser “polluter”?

      and here is a question – if the states with higher levels – propose to close coal and build nukes – what happens?

      1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
        Tysons Engineer

        new nuclear power plants aren’t likely. Upfront costs are insanely high, they come with all sorts of requirements for zones to be low developed/undeveloped(for good reason) around them which means running high transmission lines for miles (loss of efficiency on delivery) in the middle of nowhere where growth isn’t even happening as fast as metro areas. You could see them in the southwest/great north, but then again those areas have an abundance of hydro/solar/nat gas sources… so why would anyone?

        It is much more likely they will be replaced by 1) natural gas because it appears we have a solid 30-50 year time frame of currently priced domestic sources 2) renewables.

        The more likely scenario is, they will create nat gas plants with blended renewables for peak.

  5. larryg Avatar

    carbon dioxide aside – what is the problem with reducing mercury deposition from power plants so that we can safely eat the fish in our rives?

    can someone give a “value” for continuing to allow this?

    it it one cent per kilowatt hour? , 2, 3, 4 ?

    who knows the answer here?

    how much are we saving in electricity bills by allowing mercury to be emitted – a substance that bio-accumulates?

    In your own case – how much of your electric bill is attributable to continuing to allow mercury deposition?

    do we know? is it one dollar a month or three or five or ten?

    if you don’t know this for mercury – do you know it for carbon dioxide?

    do you know if we cut back on mercury pollution that we also cut back on carbon dioxide?

    I ask these questions because I suspect that most folks don’t know the numbers for their own situation even as we hear that the increased regulations will “cost” billions of dollars and harm the economy.

    Here’s the question – has your electric bill gone up more than your cable bill?

    how many of you – are actually paying MORE for your cable bill than your electric bill?

    why do we let these totally ideological and partisan arguments dissuade us from some good old fashioned due-diligence with regard to our own situation?

    1. TBill Avatar

      There is a separate EPA mercury reduction/air toxics law that should help. Many coal plants are >40 years old and do not have the scrubbers that could remove much of the mercury. My understanding is mercury is to some extent a global issue, with a certain amount crossing oceans and coming down here, so I do not expect the mercury issue to go away anytime soon. I suspect it might get worse globally, but I do not know if there are any official projections.

      1. larryg Avatar

        mercury is regional TMT… it drops out fairly quickly compared to lighter weight materials…

        most of the mercury in Va comes from power plants to the west that are supplying power to our urban areas and don’t forget that Va has an abundance of Nukes at North Anna and Surrey that help supply RIchmond and Hampton.

        Unlike TE – if we can develop smaller Nukes that are designed to shut down benignly – they could revolutionize Nuke Power and make it the go-to power source – to start to ramp us away from coal.

        What Obama and the EPA are doing – may well push us into doing this.

        if you do a straight up cost comparison between coal and nukes – i.e. include the environmental impacts of both… what happens?

        1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
          Tysons Engineer

          Smaller nuclear power plants? I think you are misunderstanding the space requirements that come with nuclear power. It doesn’t have to do with the actual amount of output, it has to do with safety, evacuation, and population risks.

          It doesn’t matter how small you make the plant output itself, if it is within 50 miles of any area with greater than 500 people per square mile, its likely not going to be politically (or by regulatory) feasible. On top of that, by scaling down the amount produced, you are losing out on nuclears number 1 competition point, being an economy of scale. Nothing else creates as much energy for as little consistent input as nuclear does. So creating the massive infrastructure and costs (well into multiple if not tens of billions at this point) so that you can create 10-20% of the output is exactly the wrong calculus.

          Hence why I am saying, an energy producer (who has no real goal other than to produce the most energy for the least amount of life cycle cost, with a feasible upfront capital investment) would more likely choose natural gas with a blend of renewables, than to create a mini-nuclear plant, or frankly a larger nuclear plant.

          1. larryg Avatar

            TE – talking about things like pebble bed technology –

            here’s what I am talking about:


            smaller, safer, more widely distributed plants also adds to a “self-healing” type grid (like the internet).

            I don’t think we are quite there yet but we are headed in that direction.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Once again, I never said directly that carbon dioxide affects the lungs in most cases (although breathing too much can be lethal.). It does contribute the greenhouse gases and climate change which may well be catastrophic. s I said, once again, if CO2 rules mean less coal then that’s a positive for health because other pollutants in coal emissions are dangerous.
    Why is this so hard to understand? You really should read what I actually wrote.

  7. Peter, I am sincerely not trying to pick a fight or argue about any chemicals released from burning coal. I reacted to the following that discusses lung health and CO2.

    ◾Getting rid of some coal will improve the health of sufferers of lung disease in places such as the Ohio River Valley. Dominion out to take a harder look at its Chesterfield Power Station, its No. 1 carbon polluter, which spews out nearly 7 million tons of CO2 a year.

    I am not arguing that cutting back on coal use would not have any positive impact on air quality or health. It’s probably not dissimilar to smoking tobacco. I’m just not understanding the connection between lung health and 7 million tons of CO2.

    1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
      Tysons Engineer

      TMT, he doesn’t make that statement at all. You are being purposefully confrontational on a boogeyman statement you are making up.

      I will repeat

      His sentence is akin to saying “GM should review its top selling truck to determine if the ignition failure has been solved”. The top selling component of that adds information about which truck, and perhaps raises the level of why it is important, without having to be a causal element to the ignition failure itself.

      Just because in the same paragraph one notes that something is a top polluter of CO2, and then later in the paragraph says people suffering from lung disease would benefit from it being shut down, does not mean that the CO2 is the cause of lung disease.

      And btw this style of passive aggressive debate deflection style is the number one reason I don’t vote GOP anymore. It is the weapon of choice for the current GOP to argue simple statements by creating boogeymen between the words. Argue on merit, not by distraction.

      Thank you

      1. TE, are you saying I misquoted Peter? I repeated his exact language that seems to tie CO2 emissions to lung disease. I don’t understand the tie in. And no one is explaining it. Tie soot to lung disease and I understand the argument.

        Revise the statement to read: Getting rid of some coal will improve the health of sufferers of lung disease in places such as the Ohio River Valley. Dominion out to take a harder look at its Chesterfield Power Station, its No. 1 carbon polluter, which spews out nearly X million tons of soot or mercury a year, and I understand it. But my point about improperly tying CO2 to lung disease stands.

        1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
          Tysons Engineer

          You aren’t misquoting him, but then again you aren’t just stopping at the quote are you? You are then going on to dissect the quote, INCORRECTLY. Where in his quote (that you say is the source) is he saying CO2 creates lung disease. He isn’t. Which means, you are the one who is creating that statement by jumbling his words into a separate argument (for the purpose of likely confusing and obfuscating to protect your own unsteady stance).

          Show me where my statement before is wrong, is it not a perfectly understandable and correct statement to say:

          “GM should review its top selling truck to determine if the ignition failure has been solved”

          If that is true, than so too is Peter’s statement. You are parsing for the sake of pretending there is controversy and it is pathetic.

          And by the way, you used the second biggest debate tool in the idiotic GOP manual, one that is quite popular with the Hannity/OReilly/Dobbs crowd.

          Something that is quoted, or is a fact, can not SEEM to do anything. It either is or isnt, otherwise it is your OPINION that it is or isnt, or your INTERPRETATION that is or isnt. Your statement in and of itself leads to the core guise you are hiding behind. If it is something that is self evident in the quote, then you need not perceive it champ.

        2. larryg Avatar

          TMT – do you think:

          1. – that Peter materially misrepresented the issue


          2. – stated it in a grammatically incorrect way?

          Did Peter intentionally and materially misrepresent the issue?

          I don’t think he did.. myself

          having said that I do believe in this day and time of “gotcha” politics, we have to be precise in our statements.

  8. I picked on the section quoted because I don’t understand Peter’s point. A paragraph generally contains a single or group of related points. Peter is making a point that shutting down coal-powered electric plants can help people with lung disease. Can you accept that? He suggests Dominion ought to look at shutting down Chesterfield Power Station, its No. 1 carbon polluter. Can you accept that? He describes that Plant as being the number one carbon polluter in the Dominion system. Can you accept that? If he didn’t think CO2 pollution was somehow affecting lung health, why did he put it in the paragraph about lung health? It seems to me, Peter got carried away with his words and made an incorrect claim.

    What is Peter saying in that paragraph? He is certainly a good enough writer not to mix ideas in a single paragraph. My question remains: Peter, what are you trying to say about the relationship between CO2 emissions and lung disease? And, if the answer is “nothing,” perhaps, the paragraph should be rewritten.

    I realize many engineers cannot write worth a darn, but this one is simple.

    1. larryg Avatar

      re: ” Peter is making a point that shutting down coal-powered electric plants can help people with lung disease. Can you accept that?”

      do you not?

      1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
        Tysons Engineer

        Lol TMT you are grasping at giant straws.

        Once again, I gave you a perfect example of how something does not have to be DIRECTLY related in a statement to make sense.

        Let me re copy it for the 40th time

        “GM should review its top selling truck to determine if the ignition failure has been solved”

        Top selling in this case has no direct causal nature to the ignition failure. It is not because the ignition failure that the truck is top selling. No is it because it is top selling that the truck has an ignition failure. It is a specifier to provide some context.

        The same can be said if someone were to say, shutting down the Chesterfield Power Station, Virginia’s number one CO2 source, would reduce risk of lung disease. Perhaps we can argue that he should have added the word “as well” or something, but I think you are really having trouble finding any kind of excuse for your party’s doctrine if you are having to resort to this kind of childishness.

        Shutting down chesterfield and replacing with basically any other kind of power source will help reduce lung disease incidence rates locally, and reduce CO2 output which effects global pollution concerns. It does both. You lose. Defend your stance, but I am tired of this absence of real dialogue with parsing of some sentence which you would have written in a different way.

        Feel free to write your own post then, wait until I tear into it. I can assure you I won’t get hung up on some critique of sentence composition when confronting your politics.

  9. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Listen up,
    This is getting silly. Maybe I should run up to NOVA-land, invite you for a beer and I will apologize for my sloppy writing.

    1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
      Tysons Engineer

      Scratch that, if you are up here let me get you a beer. I think TMT’s fighting the battle of semantics because he knows the writing is on the wall in terms of what conservatives have been pushing, against scientific consensus, for a decade (since bushy/cheney/haliburton ran the country).

      They point to things like the fact that the temp increases fell below anticipated range for 2008-2013… yet don’t bring up the fact that carbon output in the world also slowed in its rate of increase during that time due to something called a recession, less VMT, and less coal energy production per capita vs growth.

      Pointing to those kinds of things, without actually explaining why, is what they do, because if they explained further it would be even more obvious that YES the decisions humans make actually do have an impact on long term climate trends.

      1. larryg Avatar

        of course, it’s not very honest either to point to the last 4 or 5 “down” years and ignore the 100 year trend line or worse acknowledge the trend line but say its cooked data from a worldwide conspiracy – that apparently was/is the result of efforts by “leftists”… etc..

        I think one really has to stretch it – to be a “skeptic”.

        It would be like being a “skeptic” with the Ozone holes. There was never 100% “provable” certainty with regard to the reasons why we got the holes and there were certainly no guarantees that the proposed fix would work even though it was a massive change and had significant economic impacts.

        As a nation, we believed the scientists – and we also did not make excuses that the rest of the world would not change – we took a leadership role and convinced more and more countries to also take action.

        something has happened to people. Some of the same folks who went along with the Ozone Hole approach – now have become “no way in hell” types…

        I don’t see what exactly has caused the shift in their thinking… but I would note it seems to have strong political elements to it.

        1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
          Tysons Engineer

          They are being lied to, being told that their electric bills will jump 80%. Its complete fraud. Boehner went on tv after this announcement and used 5 year old numbers from a study that has no bearance on this TAMPED DOWN version of that older proposal. He didn’t admit that many of the plants that were anticipated to be shut down because of that proposal no longer would be because this proposal has flexibility in it, he didn’t state that coal blend has actually gone down since 5 years ago, drastically in some of the more developed (progressive) states. He outright knew he was using misinformation, and still stated it.

          Its fraud, out right lying to the american people from the people who bring you Bengazi, Bergdahl, Bundy Mania! These people calling themselves conservatives is a slap in the face of all those “RINOs” like Reagan, Goldwater, Bush the first, etc.

          Beyond this, its Obama Hate, flat out. Nothing is more revealing to how poisonous anything Obama touches is to some people. Look at the Bergdahl story to see for yourself, the same people pushing to impeach obama for not bringing him home are now pushing to impeach him because he did bring them home. Whats the link? They just want obama impeached regardless of merit, reason, or rationale because in many of their hearts they still see him as an illegitimate president who isn’t THEIR commander in chief.

          Take that to mean whatever you want, but damned if doesn’t sound like much of the kind of rhetoric from the south about Lincoln.

          Womp womp womp, cry me a river. When Bush was invading countries under falsified CIA information, I complained, but I never said he wasn’t the president (despite there being far greater evidence in that case atleast that he literally was handed the presidency in 2000).

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