CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's attack on Ron Binz's nomination as FERC chairman clearly demonstrates that he's not an "all-of-the-above" supporter of energy technologies as he asserts in his press release on the subject. Rather, it demonstrates that he's a "one-of-the-above" man. His primary interest is supporting the coal industry.
The coal industry and its Senate spokesperson Joe Manchin claim that the EPA and the Obama administration are waging war on coal. Actually, the EPA is just doing its job. It has a legal obligation to protect the environment. As evidence mounts with respect to the detrimental impacts of coal-fired power and its fuel cycle (including mining) on human health, environmental quality and the climate, EPA responds. That's what the agency it supposed to do.
Manchin's coal-industry-talking-points-driven press release against Binz is at once old hat as it is insulting. Only those who profit from coal buy the claim that coal is clean or affordable at this point. That's why so many coal plants are closing. They are old and uneconomical. Equally erroneous is his claim that renewables present a reliability threat to the grid. Indeed, renewables are being successfully integrated into electric grids worldwide and their use, particularly wind and solar, is expanding rapidly.
What we are actually seeing is a coal industry war on renewables, with Manchin as the standard-bearer in the Senate. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), essentially a fossil fuel industry front group led by the Koch brothers, attempted this year to roll back or eliminate state-level renewable energy standards across the country. ALEC failed miserably even in Red States because wind turbine technology works and creates jobs. Manchin, the only Democratic U.S. Senator belonging to ALEC, whose financial interests and campaign contributions make him a coal industry insider, with attendant conflicts interest in the public policy arena, is working national policy on behalf of coal.
Renewables and energy efficiency have essentially already won the energy war. Unlike coal-fired power, their costs continue to decline, they have little impact on public health or water availability or quality, improve the climate situation, and are by far the less financially risky investment. What we're seeing now is rear guard action by a dying industry that's watching the shutdown of numerous antiquated coal plants and cancellation of new ones. Those under construction have run into considerable cost overruns, further undermining the industry's credibility. The once hoped for export market in Asia has not materialized.
The utility industry calls wind and solar technologies "disruptive challenges" to its obsolete base load paradigm that generates its income. The coal industry is in lock step with this perspective. A change in policy direction would also mean Manchin's coal-infested blind trust would lose money, too. In other words, the utility/coal complex isn't attacking renewables because they don't work, but because they do work and are financially threatening to them.
Manchin's single-minded support of coal has also slowed attempts by EPA to phase out mountaintop removal mining, an ecological and human health disaster in his home state. He has been willing to sacrifice communities, people's lives and health, and their property values on behalf of the coal industry and this mining method. Anyone who finds a way to support it must certainly first distance themselves from any ethical standard or modicum of human compassion.
Manchin's actions continue to damage the nation. His advocacy on behalf of the coal industry has slowed progress to a true clean, affordable, modern and reliable electric grid. His obvious conflict of interest is a disgrace.
What Manchin is ultimately doing is contrary to his own belief. He is actually undermining the U.S. economy. Renewable power is now a global phenomenon. The Congress can embrace it and make the U.S. a leader in renewable energy, or we can import most of it. Meanwhile, Manchin is attempting to ensure that obsolete, destructive and costly technology remains the mainstay of the U.S. power sector.
Solo is director of the Civil Society Institute, and Keating is executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.