Cathy Kunkel is an independent consultant with Kunkel Energy Research and a fellow with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Based in Fayetteville, WV, she has testified in several cases before the West Virginia Public Service Commission on energy efficiency and resource planning. Prior to moving to West Virginia, she was a graduate student in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley and a senior research associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She has undergraduate and master’s degrees in physics.
A ninth generation Appalachian, Bob Kincaid is a leader in the struggle against Mountaintop Removal coal extraction. As a co-founder of the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (ACHE) Campaign (http://AcheAct.org), he focuses on the ongoing health crisis that has arisen in central Appalachian communities that exist alongside mountaintop removal operations. The ACHE Campaign is directly responsible for the introduction of HR 526, the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act, the only bill in the Congress with the power to end Mountaintop Removal. As a radio host at the Head-On Radio Network, Bob has devoted more time to discussing the impacts surface mining has had on his state and region than any other broadcaster. Bob is a father of four and grandfather of three. Those seven are the motivation for his continuing efforts to bring an end to what the New York Times has called “Appalachia’s Agony.”
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency presented new rules to regulate emissions from existing coal power plants, which are the largest source of carbon pollution. While many environmentalists have been calling the proposed new rules a victory, Republicans and some Democrats have labeled the regulations a war on coal.
To get us beyond the partisan politics and rhetoric and discuss the real impact of these regulations are our two guests.
Joining us from West Virginia is Bob Kincaid. He is a broadcaster HeadOnRadioNetwork.com and cofounder of the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Campaign.
Also joining us from West Virginia is Cathy Kunkel. She’s a fellow with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Thank you both for joining us.
BOB KINCAID, COFOUNDER, WWW.ACHEACT.ORG: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
CATHY KUNKEL, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR ENERGY ECONOMICS AND FINANCIAL ANALYSIS: Thanks for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, Bob, let’s start off with you. The new rules are still under review, but many environmentalists are saying these rules are a great step forward to combating carbon emissions. So what’s your take? Do you think they go far enough?
KINCAID: They don’t. In point of fact, they’re essentially meaningless for the communities that are on the ground where coal is extracted in central Appalachia. These new emissions standards, while laudable, certainly, and important in terms of protecting the health of people who are downwind from things like coal-fired power plants, they do nothing for the communities where toxic dust poison enters water, where the sludge, we call it, as much as 100 billion gallons of it, is stored in open lakes. None of that is touched by these regs.
DESVARIEUX: Cathy, what’s your take? It sounds quite significant that West Virginia, a state that gets nearly 96 percent of electricity from coal, must cut its emissions by 21 percent. These sound like it’s a step in the right direction. What’s your perspective?
KUNKEL: I mean, I think it definitely is a step in the right direction. And I think it will require some changes in West Virginians’ power sector if the rules are implemented.
You know, one of the concerns I have is I think these rules are likely to be tied up in court for many years. Most of the EPA’s recent attempts to regulate air emissions from power plants have been, you know, tied up in court for several years, which would delay implementation of this rule. But, you know, I do think, you know, if it’s properly implemented, it is going to reduce emissions from the power sector in West Virginia.
DESVARIEUX: Bob, what about what political supporters of coal are saying? They’re basically saying, essentially, this is going to translate into job loss. What would be your response to them?
KINCAID: The fact of the matter is, where mountaintop removal coal is concerned, peer-reviewed studies have indicated that as many as 4,000 excess deaths happen annually in West Virginia’s mountaintop removal communities. That’s roughly the same number of people as we have working on mountaintop removal jobs. So that means that 4,000 innocents are trading their very lives every year for someone else to have a job. That seems to me not much in the way of the bargain. It’s rather–well, it’s more the brutal. It’s heartbreaking.
The fact of the matter is, though, even if these, as Cathy notes, even if these regulations are successfully implemented, that speaks to emissions at the burning end of the process. The fact of the matter is, a lot of this stuff is exported to places like Russia and India and China, and there’s going to be no impact on that. There’s a long history of the coal industry being less than forthcoming, and I think this is another example of it.
DESVARIEUX: And, Cathy, some are even saying that this may be a victory for natural gas. Do you see that as a victory for them?
KUNKEL: I mean, I think it certainly helps the natural gas industry. And, you know, one of the things that this rule doesn’t take into account in its recent studies looking at methane emissions from fracking, which, you know, some studies indicate that fracking might be, you know, much more greenhouse gas intensive than people have historically assumed natural gas to be, but, you know, this rule is sort of assuming that natural gas is about half as carbon intensive is coal. And, you know, under that sort of scenario, which I don’t think is particularly accurate in light of recent science, you know, this is going to push utilities towards natural gas generation at the expense of coal.
DESVARIEUX: So, Bob, you alluded to this your previous response about issues surrounding coal extraction and processing and the export. Can you dig a little bit deeper and talk about whether or not the EPA is addressing some of these concerns?
KINCAID: Sure, Jessica. I’d be happy to. The answer is no, they’re not. The fact of the matter is we have a full-blown human health crisis in Appalachia–heart disease elevated shockingly; cancers, bizarre cancers that are all over our mountaintop removal communities; birth defects that shock the conscience. And nothing that the EPA is doing is even beginning to address that.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And the rules that are being reviewed for a year–but so far they seem largely to rely on cap-and-trade method for cutting emissions on a state level. I mean, I want to get both of your perspectives on this, ’cause it seems to be working in California, where they’ll be expanding the program to cover 85 percent of their economy by 2015.
So, Bob, briefly can you just explain to our viewers how cap and trade works? And do you think this the correct policy to be pursuing in order to really combat climate change?
KINCAID: I am not a huge fan of cap and trade. I think we need cap and tax. Cap and trade merely sets up another potentially abusable market for–and we’ve seen how well Wall Street handles those. The idea that one great–a big polluter can trade off carbon credits with a lesser polluter and somehow wind up in a–I don’t know. It’s like cutting off the bottom of a blanket and sewing it onto the top and thinking you’ve got more blanket.
DESVARIEUX: So, for you, you’d want to–explain that a little bit, a carbon tax and cap and trade. What do you mean by that?
KINCAID: I mean we need to cap carbon emissions. But we also need to make sure–the surest way to make sure that carbon is not emitted into the atmosphere is to leave it in the ground. And with that I’m suggesting we need a moratorium such as is suggested by HR 526 in the House of Representatives, the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act. It would put a moratorium on new mountaintop removal permits. If we leave it in the ground, it’s not getting burned. If it’s not getting burned, it’s not making the planet unfit for human habitation.
As far as cap and tax is concerned, I think that if you are a major emitter of carbon pollution, all the way from the extraction site before it’s incinerated to the incineration point, if you are a major emitter of carbon pollution, you should be paying dearly for it.
DESVARIEUX: Cathy, I want to ask you the same questions. What are the issues with cap and trade? Do you see it as some sort of scam? And what would be the alternative?
KUNKEL: Well, I mean, I agree with Bob that setting up a major market opens itself up to opportunities for a lot of market manipulation and speculation and fraud and things like that that we’ve seen, you know, all too much of in the past five or six years.
But I think it’s important to note that this EPA rule does not set up a cap and trade mechanism necessarily. It gives a lot of discretion to the states to meet their state-specific targets however they want to. You know, they can just mandate more energy efficiency or more renewables or switching from coal to natural gas at power plants. States do have the option to do some sort of cap-and-trade type mechanism, or to even collaborate with other states in a multistate mechanism. But that’s, you know, by no means required under this rule.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And what would you see is the alternative? What should states be pursuing, then?
KUNKEL: Well, I mean, I think, you know, like I was saying, you know, states can set their own targets for energy efficiency and for developing more renewables within their state. You know, some states, depending on whether they have regulated or deregulated electricity markets, can have sort of more or less control over, you know, how much generation actually occurs at their coal plants, and they can try to restrict that. So, you know, I think there are sort of more straightforward mechanisms than a cap-and-trade type approach.
DESVARIEUX: And you guys are both down there in coal country, in West Virginia. How is these EPA regulations being received? I’ll ask you first, Bob.
KINCAID: With a great amount of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and great big crocodile tears cried by the coal industry and its politicians as they go weeping all the way to the bank. This is being portrayed as more of the war on coal, which is, of course, a complete fabrication. I think it was just today or perhaps yesterday that my congressman, Nick Rahal, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would essentially strip the EPA of any ability ever to regulate carbon or carbon dioxide forever.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And, Cathy, for you, what have you noticed?
KUNKEL: Yeah, I mean, I think similarly, you know, the politicians have been very outspokenly against this rule. But, you know, I think it’s really, you know, trying to sort of delay the inevitable. I mean, the truth is that the coal industry is hurting, especially in central Appalachia, and it has been declining. And I think now it’s kind of become a blame game of, like, let’s blame the EPA for this instead of, you know, blaming the fact that they’re losing market share to let natural gas already and that the coal is becoming more expensive to my just because of geology, that’s because of the EPA.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Cathy Kunkel and Bob Kincaid, thank you both for joining us.
KINCAID: A pleasure.
KUNKEL: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.