Here is the perfect example of why we need better Democrats. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) decided to shill for the coal industry, attack the Obama administration, and lie through his teeth in one shallow breath.
What I don’t understand is the subsidies. The subsidies of energy, whether it be to oil, gas, wind, solar, biofuels, ethanol. The only energy source — which is the greatest source that we have so far as we’re dependent on — is coal. It doesn’t get a penny of subsidies. But it’s been villainized by this administration and so many people and it’s the one we depend on the most. It gives back more than it takes. I can’t figure it out.
This statement is beyond inaccurate. It is simply dishonest. Perhaps this man cannot separate his loyalties to the coal industry because his state's economy is dependent on coal extraction.
Senator Manchin is a liar when he says coal is not heavily subsidized by federal and state governments. The coal industry received over $17 billion in federal subsidies from 2002 to 2008. State governments also kick in hundreds of millions in additional subsidies. Here are some of the direct costs to the state of West Virginia associated with the coal industry (see page 12).
Direct coal industry: On-budget expenditures. The West Virginia state budget includes a variety of expenditures that exist only because of the state’s coal industry. We focus on coal-related expenditures that are paid for with general revenue and state road funds. These include, for example, units of government within the Department of Commerce and Department of Environmental Protection, as well as expenditures for the repair of the state’s coal haul roads. We calculate that estimated on-budget coal-related expenditures amounted to approximately $113.7 million for Fiscal Year 2009. The estimated on-budget expenditures are considerably less than the direct revenues generated by the industry; therefore, we estimate that the coal industry directly provided a net benefit to the state budget of approximately $193.6 million in Fiscal Year 2009.
Direct coal industry: Off-budget expenditures. In addition to on-budget expenditures, we estimate off-budget expenditures in the form of tax expenditures. Tax expenditures are foregone revenues resulting from the provision of tax exemptions, credits, and reduced or preferential tax rates. Tax expenditures have the same fiscal impact as direct on-budget government expenditures. They both result in a loss of tax revenue to state government, thereby reducing the funds available for other government programs and services. We estimate that total tax expenditures provided by the State of West Virginia to the coal industry amounted to approximately $173.8 million in Fiscal Year 2009.
And let's not forget the legacy costs to future generations of West Virginians (see page 13).
While this report focuses on impacts of the coal industry and its employees on the state budget, there are certain legacy costs that will continue to require funding long into the future. For example, in West Virginia, as in other Appalachian states, many coal mine operators have chosen to step away from their mines before full reclamation is complete, leaving a legacy of polluted drainage, drinking water contamination, and health and safety threats. There are 4,391 abandoned mine lands in West Virginia. While $464 million has been spent to complete projects, an additional $1.5 billion of work is required. In addition, more recent bond forfeiture sites are also in need of reclamation. These legacy sites present a liability for the coal industry. Because the main funding mechanism in place to reclaim these sites is insufficient and scheduled to end in 2022, action is needed to ensure that reclamation is completed and that the costs are not shifted to taxpayers. If action is not taken, then the West Virginia state budget could face additional expenditures in the future to finish the job of reclaiming these legacy sites.
A second legacy cost is the lasting impact of coal trucks on state roads and bridges. The total cost of repairing West Virginia’s roads and bridges damaged by overweight coal trucks is approximately $4.0 billion. Even if the state were spending $200 million per year to repair and replace the infrastructure as needed, it would take 20 years of repairs and a cessation of coal truck operations to cover the full cost.
A third legacy cost is the workers’ compensation debt accumulated prior to 2005, known as the “Old Fund.” Some portion of these unfunded liabilities resulted from injuries and deaths related to coal industry activity. Approximately $115.5 million in coal-related revenues—mostly from taxes on coal production—was dedicated toward paying off the Old Fund debt in Fiscal Year 2009. This represents a substantial source of lost revenues that the state could be putting to more beneficial uses.
As the former governor of West Virginia, Senator Manchin is well aware that the taxpayers shoulder many of the costs associated with the mining, processing, emissions, and combustion wastes associated with coal. He is also well aware of other costs associated with coal. For example, studies conducted in West Virginia have shown a strong association between coal mining activity in an area and chronic health conditions, including cancer. The link between coal mining activity and cancer appears to be associated with water and air quality issues proximal to mine waste discharge points. The lack of economic development beyond coal has produced some of the highest rates of poverty in the nation, particularly in counties with the high rates of coal mining activity. The combination of pollution, poverty, and mining-specific health conditions (e.g., black lung) also drastically reduce life expectancy where coal is king.
And let's not forget that the taxpayers have been on the hook for cleaning up the largest coal ash spill in history...
Speaking of coal ash, a new report found that coal combustion waste also leaches hexavalent chromium into ground and surface water. Hexavalent chromium is highly carcinogenic substance at the heart of Erin Brockovitch story.
The report also identifies 28 coal ash disposal sites in 17 states where groundwater was documented to exceed existing federal or state standards for chromium and to exceed by many orders of magnitude the proposed California drinking water goal for hexavalent chromium. These contaminated coal ash dump sites are likely the tip of the iceberg. The threat of drinking water contamination by hexavalent chromium is present in hundreds of communities near unlined coal ash disposal sites across the United States. While the EPA doesn’t need another reason to define coal ash as a hazardous waste when disposed, it certainly has one now.
I am sure Senator Manchin can find some excuse for exposing Americans to hexavalent chromium, arsenic, and other heavy metals in their drinking water thanks to lax regulation of coal combustion waste.
Manchin's contempt for the truth is not limited to the massive direct and indirect subsidies to the coal industry. He also wants to increase the devastating impact on mountaintop removal mining on his state and future generations of West Virginians. Here is a portion of his speech given today to the West Virginia Coal Association Symposium.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin today addressed the annual West Virginia Coal Association Symposium, drawing applause from the crowd as he discussed his first piece of legislation, the “EPA Fair Play Act of 2011.”
“I believe it is absolutely wrong – the unbridled power that these agencies have. Or, the power they are exercising because they think they have it,” Senator Manchin said. “It’s wrong not just for West Virginia, it’s wrong for America.”
Senator Manchin yesterday introduced the “EPA Fair Play Act,” which would prevent the agency from changing its rules on businesses after permits have already been granted, as they did with Southern West Virginia’s Spruce Mine.
The Spruce Mine is the largest mountaintop removal mining project ever proposed. The permit was denied because the company refused to limit the stream impacts by reducing valley fills. What Manchin means by playing fair is for the EPA to ignore the effects of mountaintop removal mining on water and air quality, not to mention deforestation and laughable land reclamation standards.
Senator Manchin certainly makes up in audacity what he lacks in integrity. Robert Byrd, the man Joe Manchin replaced in the Senate, had the courage to note the dwindling benefits of coal to the West Virginia economy and the high costs of putting the interests of the coal industry ahead of the American people.
To be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say “deal me out.” West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table.
The 20 coal-producing states together hold some powerful political cards. We can have a part in shaping energy policy, but we must be honest brokers if we have any prayer of influencing coal policy on looming issues important to the future of coal like hazardous air pollutants, climate change, and federal dollars for investments in clean coal technology.
Most people understand that America cannot meet its current energy needs without coal, but there is strong bi-partisan opposition in Congress to the mountaintop removal method of mining it. We have our work cut out for us in finding a prudent and profitable middle ground – but we will not reach it by using fear mongering, grandstanding and outrage as a strategy. As your United States Senator, I must represent the opinions and the best interests of the entire Mountain State, not just those of coal operators and southern coalfield residents who may be strident supporters of mountaintop removal mining.
Manchin is not an honest broker when he claims coal is not subsidized and produces benefits in excess of its costs. The best thing one can say about him is that he is no worse than any Republican alternative. That ain't saying much.