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Climate Deniers In Washington Can’t Save Big Coal

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Last Monday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced he will repeal the Obama administration’s regulation to curb power plant carbon emissions, telling coal miners in Kentucky that “the war on coal is over.” The next day he kept his promise, issuing a proposed rule to eliminate the Clean Power Plan.

It was hardly a surprise. After all, President Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and vowed during his campaign to bring back coal jobs, which is why Pruitt made his preliminary announcement in Kentucky, where workers have a direct economic stake.

Despite the rhetoric, however, Pruitt and Trump can’t alter the harsh reality of the U.S. coal industry: Terminating the Clean Power Plan isn’t going to bring it back.

Consider the facts: As recently as 2008, coal-fired power plants generated half of all U.S. electricity. Since then, demand for coal has dropped steadily due to cheap natural gas, new wind and solar projects, energy efficiency initiatives, and bad investment decisions, forcing three of the four largest U.S. coal companies — and smaller ones as well — into bankruptcy. Today, coal accounts for about 30 percent of U.S. electricity generation.

As for jobs, mechanization displaced miners years ago. In 1980, more than 228,000 people worked in the coal industry. In July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry employed only 50,400. Employment is especially anemic in Kentucky, which supplies 7 percent of the nation’s coal, making it the third-largest coal-producing state. The coal industry employed just 5,600 people in Kentucky in July, according to the BLS, a mere 0.28 percent of the state’s nonfarm working population and 70 percent fewer than at the end of 2008.

Mining jobs aside, according to a new Union of Concerned Scientists analysisthe rapid transition away from coal-powered electricity is likely to continue no matter what the Trump administration does.

“A significant portion of today’s coal fleet can’t compete economically with cleaner energy options,” said Jeremy Richardson, a UCS senior energy analyst and the report’s lead author. “That’s particularly the case in the Southeast, where operational costs for coal units are considerably higher than what utilities would have to pay for natural gas or renewables.”

Coal Plant Retirements Will Continue

The numbers tell the story: Nine years ago, 1,256 turbine units at 526 coal-fired power plants had a generating capacity of nearly 357 gigawatts (GW). (One gigawatt can power some 700,000 average homes.) Now, 706 units at 329 coal-fired power plants have a capacity of 284 GW — 20 percent less. In the intervening years, utilities converted 98 units to burn natural gas and retired 452 others.

Of the remaining 706 units, utilities have already announced plans to either retire or convert 163 more by 2030, amounting to roughly 18 percent of total U.S. coal capacity. But even that does not provide the full picture: UCS identified another 122 units at 58 plants that are uneconomic compared with natural gas — an additional 20 percent of coal capacity that is ripe for retirement. Taken together, UCS analysis shows that U.S. coal-fired electricity capacity could drop by more than a third in the next 15 years.

This inevitable decline will affect some states far more than others. Ironically, the state that consumes the highest percentage of uneconomic coal-fired electricity is West Virginia, the second-largest U.S. coal-producing state. UCS found that 12 of the 19 coal-fired units currently operating in the state are ripe for retirement, accounting for some 57 percent of the state’s electricity. Four other states are generating more than 20 percent of their electricity from uneconomic coal-fired units: Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Fewer Coal Plants, Better Health

Shutting down more old, inefficient coal units or converting them to run on natural gas will undoubtedly have a positive effect on public health. The data show that tighter pollution controls and closures already have dramatically reduced toxic coal plant pollutants linked to cancer and cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological diseases. Between 2004 and 2012, for example, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions — the main components of fine particulate pollution — dropped 68 percent and 55 percent, respectively, according to a 2015 Clean Air Task Force study. As a result, the study found, the number of asthma attacks attributable to coal plant pollution plunged 77 percent, heart attacks decreased 69 percent, hospital admissions plummeted 74 percent, and premature deaths declined 68 percent, from 23,600 to 7,500.

Closing more coal plants would particularly benefit low-income communities and communities of color, which are disproportionately harmed by coal’s toxic emissions. A 2012 NAACP study found that the nearly 6 million Americans who lived within 3 miles of a coal plant in 2000 had an average per capita income of $26,000 in today’s dollars — 15 percent lower than the national average — and 39 percent were people of color. According to UCS, by 2016 the number of Americans living within 3 miles of a coal plant was down to 3.3 million, and when the units scheduled for retirement are shuttered, fewer than 2 million will live that close.

According to an August 2016 Carnegie Mellon study in the journal Energy, converting all currently operating coal power plants to natural gas would further reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent and 60 percent, respectively. But coal plants are also one of the nation’s largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for roughly 20 percent. Replacing them with natural gas would not do enough to reduce the electric power sector’s contribution to climate change, not only because the burning of natural gas produces carbon dioxide, but also because gas leaks at drilling sites, processing plants and pipelines release methane, a more powerful heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide. The UCS analysis recommends a better approach.

The Case for Renewable Energy

“In states where many outmoded coal units will likely close, a wholesale shift from one fossil fuel to another is tempting, but it would be a big mistake,” said Sam Gomberg, a UCS senior energy analyst and coauthor of the new UCS report. “Aside from the fact that it wouldn’t adequately combat global warming, there are other problems with relying too heavily on natural gas, including yo-yoing prices and utilities getting stuck with obsolete infrastructure.” To avoid these pitfalls, Gomberg said, states should diversify their energy mix with renewable resources such as wind and solar power, energy efficiency, and emerging technologies, including battery storage and smart meters.

Given the scale and scope of the energy transition now under way, the choices utilities make to replace coal will have a major impact on public health, the environment, and economic justice.

“Our analysis makes it abundantly clear that the transition away from coal is continuing and it’s long past time for Congress and the administration to drop the false premise that killing environmental safeguards will bring back coal jobs,” said Richardson. “Cities and states need to prepare for this next wave of coal plant retirements and work with local communities to figure out how to avoid an overdependence on natural gas and ensure that the benefits of transitioning to a clean energy economy flow to communities equitably.”

 

 

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His articles have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Columbia Journalism Review, The Hill and many other publications.

 

Energy Department Scientists Barred From Attending Nuclear Power Conference

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, was one of 30 U.S.-based scientists scheduled to speak at the quadrennial International Atomic Energy Agency conference on fast breeder nuclear reactors in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in late June. Lyman did not attend the previous two conferences, Kyoto in 2009 and Paris in 2013, and was looking forward to rubbing shoulders with hundreds of scientists from around the world, including more than two-dozen from U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories.

Shortly after he arrived, however, Lyman learned that the 27 DOE lab scientists listed in the conference program were no-shows. One session featuring a panel of four DOE lab scientists talking about code development was canceled outright, Lyman said, while a handful of other panel discussions, originally comprised of five to six speakers, soldiered on without U.S. participation. “On the first day, the DOE attaché at the U.S. embassy in Moscow gave a 20-minute talk about the U.S. fast reactor program and refused to take questions,” he said. “That was it for the Energy Department.” Three DOE scientists did attend the conference, according to the DOE, but none of them were part of the official program.

Sandra Bogetic, a UC Berkeley doctoral student who presented a research poster at the conference, couldn’t help but notice that the DOE scientists were missing. Bogetic’s poster session was slated to include presentations by 122 scientists from 17 countries, including a dozen scientists from DOE labs. The DOE scientists were nowhere to be found, and another five DOE scientists missed a second poster session the following day.

“Everyone was in shock that they didn’t show up,” Bogetic said. “It’s the most important conference for fast reactors, and it was a lost opportunity for U.S. scientists to share their work at a conference that takes place only every four years.”

Mum’s the Word

Scientists planning to speak or present posters at the IAEA conference were asked to hand in their papers to conference organizers last December, five months before the event. The deadline was then extended into January, and at that point, the 27 DOE lab scientists were all on board to participate.

In early April, however, the DOE scientists received an email from Sal Golub, associate deputy assistant secretary for nuclear technology research and development at the DOE, indirectly telling them that the agency was not going to let them go.

“Yesterday,” Golub wrote, “we informally notified the IAEA conference organizers of the following: Representatives from the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and DOE/NE contractors at the National Labs are currently unable to travel to Russia, which means they will not be able to attend the IAEA’s Fast Reactor conference in June.” He also assured the scientists that the DOE was “working with the organizers to adjust the program to reflect our absence,” which obviously didn’t happen.

Golub gave no reason why DOE scientists were “unable” to travel to Russia, and when I asked him for an explanation, he referred me to the DOE public relations office. Spokespeople at department headquarters in Washington, D.C., and the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, where 15 of the 27 missing DOE scientists are based, were equally unhelpful.

A DOE spokesperson in Washington, who declined to be identified, responded in an email: “We greatly value cooperation with the IAEA and plan to continue to do so whenever we can. The Department of Energy and the [U.S.] Embassy were represented at the event.”

Christopher Kramer, Argonne’s media relations manager, also avoided answering my question. “I can tell you that Argonne greatly values its relationship with the IAEA and plans to continue cooperation whenever we can,” he said in an email. “… From what I understand, Argonne did have two people in attendance at the conference in question.”

I emailed both PR officers back and again asked why the scientists weren’t at the conference. No response. Finally, I called a random sample of the grounded scientists. It was another dead-end.

“I wasn’t able to attend,” one said tersely. “I won’t talk about it.” Click. “We were told not to deal with outside media or organizations,” said another. Click. Two others were slightly more talkative, but neither could clear up the mystery. “I know very little about the decision” to cancel the trip, said one of the scheduled panelists. “It was above my pay grade. I basically followed orders from management.” The other scientist, a would-be poster session participant, was clearly perturbed. “The only reason I know is the [DOE] Office of Nuclear Energy wouldn’t let people go,” he said. “They didn’t give us a reason. I don’t know what their rationale is. Other U.S. government agencies are sending their people to Russia.”

Trump’s War on Science or a New Cold War?

So what’s the story behind the case of the missing DOE scientists?

It could come down to money. It’s certainly no secret that the Trump administration wants to slash DOE science spending. Just last month, for instance, the department closed its Office of International Climate and Technology, eliminating 11 staff positions. The office, which was established in 2010, provided technical advice to other countries on ways to reduce carbon emissions. The administration’s proposed federal budget, meanwhile, would cut the annual budget of the DOE Office of Science — the nation’s largest funder of the physical sciences — by 17 percent to $4.47 billion, its lowest level since 2008, not adjusting for inflation. Outlays for nuclear energy research would drop 28 percent. Even more drastic, the budget for the department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would plunge nearly 70 percent.

DOE spokespeople, however, didn’t cite financial constraints as a reason, and the cost of sending the scientists to Russia was presumably built into the fiscal year 2017 budget, which predated the Trump administration. In any case, Bogetic, the Berkeley grad student, told me that one of the scientists who wasn’t allowed to attend the conference asked the DOE if he could pay his own way. The answer was no.

It’s also tempting to chalk it up to the Trump administration’s war on science. Besides barring federal scientists from attending conferences, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the administration also has been preventing scientists from speaking publicly, dismissing key scientific advisors, denying public access to taxpayer-funded information, and ignoring scientific evidence to justify rolling back public health, environmental and workplace safeguards. No doubt, the administration’s hostility toward federal scientists may have been a factor.

The most likely explanation, however, is where the conference took place — Russia — and what it was about — nuclear energy.

U.S.-Russian relations, notwithstanding President Trump’s bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin, have been deteriorating for quite some time. The White House is under investigation for possibly colluding with Moscow to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and Congress just passed tougher sanctions on Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, annexing Crimea, and supporting eastern Ukraine separatists.

Nuclear-related relations between the United States and Russia are also frayed. Last October, in response to U.S. sanctions, Putin suspended a U.S.-Russian agreement to dispose of excess weapons grade plutonium; an agreement to cooperate with the United States on nuclear energy-related research; and a pact between the DOE and Rosatom — the Russian state atomic energy corporation — to conduct feasibility studies on converting six Russian research reactors to safer, low-enriched uranium.

Putin’s actions didn’t get much media attention, but they should have. Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists last December, Siegfried Hecker, former director of the DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, warned that “the Kremlin’s systematic termination of nuclear cooperation with the United States … sets the clock back, putting both countries at enormous risk and endangering global stability.”

Rosatom was the co-host of the June IAEA conference, which was held in Yekaterinburg mainly because the world’s largest operating fast reactor is only 35 miles away, at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant. Conference participants were treated to a tour of the 880-megawatt BN-800 reactor, which began generating power last year, as well as its smaller predecessor, the BN-600, which has been running since 1980. There are only four other fast reactors currently in operation worldwide: one in China, two in India, and another one in Russia.

The IAEA conference, however, was not Russo-centric. Scientists from more than two dozen countries, including China, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea and Sweden, participated. And despite Russia’s suspension of nuclear cooperation with the United States, U.S. scientists were welcome.

“Scientists shouldn’t be limited by political problems,” said Bogetic. “We are scientists. We need to communicate.”

Lyman, the UCS physicist who participated in a panel discussion at the conference, agrees. “With so many communication channels between the U.S. and Russia now cut off, it’s essential to preserve scientific cooperation in areas where there is common ground between the two countries,” he said. “Preventing DOE scientists from attending the IAEA conference — for whatever reason — was shortsighted and ultimately self-defeating.”

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His articles have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Columbia Journalism Review, The Hill and many other publications.

Can Trump’s Koch-Funded Appointees Stall America’s Clean Energy Momentum?

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

When The Washington Post reported earlier this month that President Trump appointed Daniel Simmons to run the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the paper called him a “conservative scholar.”

Conservative scholar? “Fossil fuel industry propagandist” would have been more accurate.

A veteran of Charles and David Koch’s climate science denier network, Simmons has spent much of his career disparaging clean energy. His most recent job was at the Institute for Energy Research (IER), where he served as the think tank’s vice president for policy. Prior to joining IER, he was the Natural Resources Task Force director for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporation-funded lobby group that, like IER, has been trying to repeal state standards that require electric utilities to use more renewable energy. And before that, he was a research fellow at the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University. All three organizations have received substantial funding from the Koch brothers, owners of the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries, who have spent more than $100 million over the last two decades on dozens of think tanks and advocacy groups to spread climate disinformation.

IER and its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliance (AEA), are particularly indebted to the Kochs for both funding and staffing. Between 2010 and 2014, they received more than $5 million from Koch-controlled funds. And, like Simmons, top IER-AEA officials are well-entrenched members of the Koch network. IER founder and CEO Robert L. Bradley, Jr., for example, is an adjunct scholar at the Koch-founded and -funded Cato Institute and the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. He also has been a featured speaker at the Koch-funded Heartland Institute’s annual climate science-bashing conference. IER-AEA President Thomas Pyle, meanwhile, is a former lobbyist for Koch Industries and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. Pyle oversaw the Trump Energy Department transition team, which included Simmons and Travis Fisher, an IER economist who also is now on the DOE staff.

Given Simmons’ résumé, it’s no surprise that he belittles efforts to address global warming, disingenuously asserting that the “economic damages” of curbing carbon emissions “would be greater than the damage caused by a warming world.” Never mind that if we continue to burn carbon at the same rate, U.S. property losses by 2050 from sea level rise alone would be astronomical, ranging from $66 billion to $106 billion.

Predictably, Simmons also is a staunch opponent of federal support for wind and solar power. He argues that the “government should get out of the business of betting taxpayer dollars on energy projects,” conveniently ignoring the fact that fossil fuels themselves are heavily subsidized. According to a new analysis by Management Information Services for the Nuclear Energy Institute, fossil fuels have received $666 billion (in 2015 dollars) in federal incentives since 1950, four times what renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, biofuels and biomass, have received. More than 80 percent of that fossil fuel support went to the oil and gas industry, which, according to a 2011 study by DBL Investors, has been receiving an average of $4.86 billion (in 2010 dollars) in federal subsidies every year since 1918.

Perry’s Anti-Renewables Study

Simmons will serve as acting assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy until the Senate confirms someone for the post. He will then settle in as the office’s principal deputy assistant secretary. While it’s too early to find his fingerprints on anything, his former IER colleague, Travis Fisher, has already raised some concerns. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who also has received generous contributions from the Kochs over the years, tapped Fisher to conduct a study to assess if federal support for renewable energy threatens baseload power generators — nuclear and coal plants — and undermines electricity grid reliability.

Seven members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee have questioned the rationale for the study. In a letter to Perry, they complained that the “study, as you have framed it, appears to be intended to blame wind and solar power for the financial difficulties facing coal and nuclear electric generators” and criticized the fact that Fisher, who is clearly biased against renewables, was tasked with leading the study. Historically low natural gas prices are largely responsible for recent nuclear and coal plant closures, the senators pointed out, and several recent studies have found that wind and solar power facilities strengthen grid reliability.

The irony here, of course, is Texas — where Perry served as governor from 2000 until 2015 — is the nation’s leading state for wind energy. Lone Star wind turbines generate enough electricity to power 7 million average U.S. households and provide more than 24,000 jobs. On top of that, 10,000 Texans work in the solar industry and another 70,000 work in the energy efficiency field. By comparison, the coal industry employs only 50,000 workers nationwide.

Regardless, Perry likely plans to use Fisher’s grid reliability study as a pretext for rolling back incentives for wind and solar and boosting coal, one of President Trump’s campaign promises. Likewise, the study could give the Trump administration ammunition to attack state standards requiring utilities to increase their use of renewables.

Clean Energy Progress at the State Level

States are where the action is — and likely will continue to be — given the Trump administration’s aversion to renewable energy and years of gridlock on Capitol Hill.

“There’s a lot of clean energy momentum across the country, including in states where you might not expect it,” said John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and lead author of a recent report rating state-by-state progress. “The federal government has been playing an important role in encouraging renewable energy, efficiency and vehicle electrification—at least until recently—but we found that the states that have shown leadership are already reaping economic and environmental benefits, including new jobs, cleaner air and lower public health risks.”

Indeed, the growth of clean energy across the country has been nothing short of stupendous. Wind power generation, for example, increased more than tenfold over the past decade, according to the UCS report, while its cost dropped by two-thirds over the last six years. Wind farms in 41 states now provide enough electricity to power more than 20 million average U.S. households. Solar power capacity, meanwhile, has jumped more than 900 percent since 2011, while the cost of residential solar electric power fell by more than 50 percent since 2009 and large-scale solar costs declined even more.

The public is, by and large, on board. A new Pew Research Center poll found that 83 percent of Americans say expanding the use of renewable energy is a “top” or “important” national priority. Further, 54 percent of the survey respondents agree that “government regulations are necessary to encourage businesses and consumers to rely more on renewable energy sources.”

Renewable energy’s remarkable track record has encouraged a number of states to up the ante. Just a few years ago, ambitious states set a goal of generating 25 percent to 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy. Today, six of the 29 states with renewable energy standards are aiming to generate 50 percent or more of their electricity from wind, solar and other clean sources.

That’s the good news. The bad news is Koch surrogates have been targeting these state standards for years, and now two former IER staff members — not to mention their new boss — are in a position to do something about them. Certainly it would be the height of hypocrisy for an administration that extols states’ rights to try to scuttle state renewable energy standards, but for the Trump administration, hypocrisy is the norm. With so much clean energy momentum in blue and red states alike, the open question is just how much damage Trump’s DOE appointees will be able to do.

 

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His articles have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Columbia Journalism Review, The Hill and many other publications.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

Trump Doesn’t Realize That Environmental Protections Save Lives, Create Jobs And Strengthen The Economy

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

The executive order President Trump signed earlier this week to nullify Obama administration climate change initiatives was just his most recent directive to eliminate what he insists are “job-killing” regulations. “Every regulation should have to pass a simple test,” Trump declared in late February during another signing ceremony. “Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers?”

If that’s really the metric Trump is using, he shouldn’t target environmental regulations. Without a doubt, they make life better and safer. Not only do they protect public health and save lives, they also boost productivity and encourage investments that spur innovation and create new jobs, all at a relatively small cost to industry.

But don’t take my word for it. The facts speak for themselves.

Benefits Far Outweigh Costs

Consider how the Clean Air Act, originally passed in 1970 and amended 20 years later, stands up to President Trump’s test. Does it make life better or safer?

Thanks to the law, emissions of six common pollutants — carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particles (soot) and sulfur dioxide — plunged 70 percent on average between 1970 and 2015, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. During the same time period, the U.S. population grew 57 percent and gross domestic product jumped 246 percent.

Cutting that pollution saved lives and boosted productivity. In 2010 alone, according to a peer-reviewed 2011 EPA study, Clean Air Act programs aimed at reducing fine particles and ground-level ozone levels prevented an estimated 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, 1.7 million asthma attacks, and 13 million lost work days from illness.

Last December, the Office of Management and Budget reported to Congress that the benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments have far outweighed their cost. OMB estimates the strengthened law cost industry between $41 billion and $48 billion (in 2014 dollars) from 2005 to 2015 but saved Americans $172 billion to $668 billion — 3.5 to 16 times as much.

Net Gain in Jobs

The benefits of clean air and clean water may be self-evident, but what about President Trump’s claim that environmental safeguards “kill” jobs?

As it turns out, there is little evidence that regulations — environmental or otherwise — result in significant job losses. Other factors play a much bigger role.

Before sequestration spending cuts discontinued the program in 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly asked business owners their main reasons for laying off workers. Rarely did they cite regulations. The program’s last annual report, which documented 6,500 extended mass layoffs affecting more than 1.25 million workers in 2012, found that a drop in demand for products or services triggered 37 percent of the layoffs and the completion of seasonal work accounted for another 32 percent. Regulations, meanwhile, accounted for fewer than 0.3 percent of the workers who were let go, which was consistent with the BLS’s annual findings for the previous decade.

The BLS findings debunk the charge that environmental protections directly put a substantial number people out of work. In fact, a wealth of data accumulated over the last 40 years shows that eco-friendly standards often generate a net gain in employment, albeit a modest one.

For example, a 1994 meta study by economist Eban Goodstein of the Economic Policy Institute reviewed nine economy-wide studies on jobs and regulations published during the previous two decades. Seven of the studies concluded that environmental safeguards slightly increased aggregate employment. More jobs were created than lost, Goodstein found, in part because more workers were needed to implement pollution controls.

Economist Richard Morgenstern, a former EPA deputy administrator now at the nonprofit think tank Resources for the Future, corroborated those findings. His landmark 2002 paper in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management analyzed the effect of environmental policies on four heavily polluting industries between 1979 and 1991 and found an overall “small but significantly positive” net employment impact of environmental standards on plastics manufacturers and oil refiners. Revisiting the issue in 2013, Morgenstern and economist Anna Belova examined more than 30 years of data for 10 industries and found no significant job losses due to regulation. On the contrary, the data showed that pollution control expenditures in many cases produced more jobs than anticipated.

Finally, Roger Bezdek reviewed more than two-dozen studies for a paper in the Journal of Environmental Management in 2008 and provided his own analysis. “Investments in environmental protection create jobs and displace jobs,” he concluded, “but the net effect on employment is positive” at both the national and state level. He also cited a key fact that the Trump administration ignores: The environmental protection sector is “a major sales-generating, job-creating industry.” Indeed, the same year Bezdek published his study, the EPA found that the U.S. environmental industry supported 1.7 million jobs, generated some $300 billion in revenue, and exported $44 billion in goods and services.

Cost to Industry Relatively Small

Economists explain that environmental safeguards rarely lead to job losses in large part because they are relatively cheap to implement. As Morgenstern and Belova have pointed out, “Even for the most heavily regulated manufacturers, such as petroleum refining, the share of revenue devoted to pollution abatement costs has not exceeded 2 percent over the last 30 years.”

Major U.S. oil and gas companies concur with that assessment. “In annual reports to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,” Reuters recently reported, “13 of the 15 biggest U.S. oil and gas producers said that compliance with current regulations is not impacting their operations or their financial condition.” ExxonMobil spent only 2.24 percent of its gross revenue in 2016 to comply with environmental standards, which covered new equipment, new facilities, fines and staffing. ConocoPhillips spent 2.57 percent, while Chevron spent only 1.91 percent.

Automation and Competition Killed Coal Jobs

So, is there any truth to President Trump’s claim that cutting environmental safeguards will help coal miners? Here again, the numbers belie the rhetoric.

Yes, the number of people working in the coal industry has declined dramatically over the last three decades, but not because of stricter pollution controls. The main culprits have been automation, higher productivity, and a shift from underground mining to surface mining and mountaintop removal, which require significantly fewer workers. Consider that, in 1985, it took 169,000 workers to mine some 884 million tons of coal. In 2015, it took only 66,000 workers — 60 percent fewer — to produce 897 million tons. Combine that increased productivity with cheap natural gas, aging coal plant closures, lackluster electricity demand, and the explosive growth of renewables, and it’s clear that coal — once king — has been deposed by market forces. As recently as 2008, coal generated about 50 percent of U.S. electricity. Its share today is just 30 percent.

Regardless, Trump has repeatedly vowed to save the coal industry. Supposedly toward that end, he signed a bill in mid-February repealing the Stream Protection Rule designed to protect waterways from toxic mine waste, and earlier this week he issued an executive order rescinding the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut coal-fired power plants’ carbon emissions. In both cases, his purported rationale is to retain — and bring back — coal industry jobs. And in both cases, coal industry apologists have been peddling alternative facts.

During a February 19 interview on ABC’s This Week, for instance, Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, a major coal-producing state, claimed the Stream Protection Rule “would have cost 77,000 jobs in the coal industry.” Paul based his projection on an October 2015 study prepared for the National Mining Association, an industry trade group.

The American Action Forum, a conservative advocacy group, predicted even bigger job losses from the Clean Power Plan. A paper it issued in August 2015 claimed the rule would eliminate 125,800 coal industry jobs. In May 2014, just before the EPA announced the proposal to cut power plant carbon emissions, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the top U.S. coal producer, was more apocalyptic. He accused the Obama administration of trying “to kill coal and its 800,000 jobs.”

These layoff projections bear no relationship to reality. How could the coal industry lose 77,000, 125,800 or even 800,000 jobs when the BLS calculates that it directly employs just 50,000 people? You could fit them all into Yankee Stadium. Even when you include industry contractors, which the Mine Safety and Health Administration currently estimates at 27,700, the numbers the coal industry and its friends in Congress toss around are simply ludicrous.

Government and independent analyses tell a very different story, one that is consistent with previous studies. When the U.S. Department of the Interior wrote the Stream Protection Rule, the agency commissioned a report on its impact. Published last November, the report concluded the rule would result in a small net increase in employment. It found that an average of 124 direct jobs per year would be lost, but that coal companies would have to hire an average of 280 employees annually to comply with the rule’s requirements.

The Clean Power Plan, meanwhile, was projected to create tens of thousands of new jobs in the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors. An April 2015 study by economists at the University of Maryland and the Industrial Economics consulting firm — one of several studies arriving at similar conclusions — estimated that the Clean Power Plan was likely to increase overall U.S. employment by 273,000 jobs by 2040.

Coal Jobs Aren’t Coming Back

Given the preponderance of the evidence, it’s long past time to retire the stale argument that environmental protections hurt the economy, and getting rid of them at this point would have little chance of stopping the coal industry’s downward spiral. President Trump can boast all he wants that he can bring back coal jobs by scrapping the Stream Protection Rule, the Clean Power Plan and other environmental rules, but even CEO Robert Murray of Murray Energy, the nation’s largest privately held underground coal mining company, acknowledges that it’s a fool’s errand.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Murray conceded that many coal jobs were lost to automation and competition from natural gas and renewable energy, not environmental regulations, making it unlikely that Trump can do much to restore a significant number of them. Murray said that when he was at the White House last month for the signing of the bill repealing the stream rule, he suggested that President Trump “temper his expectations” about reviving coal jobs. “Those are my exact words,” he told the Guardian. “He can’t bring them back.”

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

How Tillerson Created The (False) Impression He Supports Climate Action

Donald Trump’s unorthodox selection of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state touched off a flurry of stories about how an engineer from humble beginnings rose through company ranks to become one of the world’s most powerful corporate titans, negotiating with potentates and presidents in dozens of countries spanning the globe.

Much of the coverage has focused on Tillerson’s chummy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has raised eyebrows among Democrats and Republicans alike, including Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Marco Rubio. Tillerson’s bromance with the Russian strongman, however, has largely overshadowed another major area of concern: ExxonMobil’s leading role in promoting climate science denial and blocking government efforts to address global warming.

Instead of exploring those issues, many news organizations have accepted at face value statements Tillerson and his lieutenants have made about company climate policy. A closer look, however, shows that while Tillerson may talk the talk, when it comes to walking, he’s heading in the wrong direction.

As a number of reporters have noted, Tillerson — unlike his crusty predecessor Lee Raymond — acknowledges that climate change is a problem. “At ExxonMobil,” Tillerson said in May at a conference in Washington, D.C., “we share the view that the risks of climate change are serious and warrant thoughtful action.”

That sounds promising, right? But Tillerson followed that statement by noting that more than a billion people around the world lack access to electricity, living in what he called a state of “energy poverty.” Cutting back on fossil fuels, Tillerson said, would condemn them to a life of deprivation. His solution: more fossil fuels, especially natural gas. As he has said on other occasions when addressing the same topic: “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”

Tillerson also routinely disparages well-established climate models, insisting they are inaccurate, and recommends societies learn how to adapt to sea level rise and other consequences of global warming instead of trying to reduce carbon emissions.

“Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around — we’ll adapt to that,” he said during a talk at the Council of Foreign Relations in June 2012. “It’s an engineering problem and it has engineering solutions. …The fear factor that people want to throw out there to say we just have to stop this [carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels], I do not accept.”

Tillerson reiterated his disdain for climate science before a much larger audience the following March. During an hour-long interview on PBS’ Charlie Rose, he emphasized uncertainty — exactly what ExxonMobil did after its own scientists warned upper management in the late 1970s about the potential for climate catastrophe. “We have continued to study this issue for decades,” he told Rose. “… With all of that [new data, better models, and more competent analysis], though, the facts remain there are uncertainties around the climate, climate change, why it’s changing, what the principal drivers of climate change are.”

Social scientists call that “manufacturing doubt.” That’s just what the tobacco industry did to stave off tighter government controls on its product despite the fact the science linking smoking to cancer and other diseases was conclusive — just as climate science is today.

Stories about Tillerson’s nomination in The Wall Street JournalThe New York Times and other publications have uncritically repeated ExxonMobil’s hollow assertion that it endorses a carbon tax. As I have previously pointed out, Tillerson first claimed to back a revenue-neutral carbon tax in 2009 in a cynical attempt to derail congressional approval of a rival approach — a market-based, cap-and-trade system — that was gaining ground at the time. In fact, a cap-and-trade bill did pass narrowly in the House, only to die later in the Senate.

Not only was Tillerson undoubtedly aware back then that a carbon tax had virtually no political support, since 2009 ExxonMobil’s friends on Capitol Hill have made sure that no carbon tax bill will ever see the light of day. There have been a handful of nonbinding carbon tax resolutions in recent years, however, and the overwhelming majority of ExxonMobil-funded senators and representatives consistently voteagainst it. Meanwhile, the company has ignored members of Congress who have actually sponsored carbon tax legislation. Earlier this year, for instance, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Brian Schatz — who get no financial support from ExxonMobil — introduced a revenue-neutral carbon tax bill. Did they hear from the company? No.

“Regarding ExxonMobil’s alleged seven years of support for a carbon fee, we’ve seen no meaningful evidence of that,” the senators said in a letter they sent to the company in August. “None of the top executives that make up ExxonMobil’s management team has expressed interest in meeting with any of us to discuss the Whitehouse-Schatz proposal or any carbon fee legislation.”

In an otherwise critical editorial on Trump’s pick for secretary of state, The New York Times applauded Tillerson for pulling the plug on climate science denier groups. “On a positive note,” the paper of record opined, “Mr. Tillerson has reversed Exxon Mobil’s long history of funding right-wing groups that denied the threat of global warming, and he could perhaps persuade Mr. Trump not to pull out of the landmark Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

In fact, Tillerson did not completely pull that plug. Despite company denials, ExxonMobil has continued to spend millions of dollars on denier groups since Tillerson took over the tiller in 2006. Outed by a 2007 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the company spent more than $18.6 million from 1998 — a year before it merged with Mobil — through 2005 on more than 40 think tanks and advocacy organizations. The company did drop some deniers from its roster in response to negative publicity, but from 2006 through 2015, it spent another $14.3 million on its climate disinformation network. Sixteen groups received ExxonMobil funding last year, and 10 of them — including the American Enterprise Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, Federalist Society and Hoover Institution — were listed in the 2007 UCS report.

As for the Times‘ hope that Tillerson, as secretary of state, could persuade Trump to uphold the Paris climate accord, it’s not clear he would try. After all, his company stands to profit handsomely if it fails.

It is true that ExxonMobil endorsed the agreement, at least on paper. A close reading of the company’s statement of support, however, suggests that it hinges on whether its own agenda is satisfied.

After calling the accord “an important step forward by world governments” and insisting that ExxonMobil “has a constructive role to play in developing solutions,” the statement urges policymakers to reduce carbon emissions “at the lowest cost to society, keeping in mind that access to affordable and reliable energy is critical to economic growth and improved standards of living worldwide.”

Ensuring worldwide access to energy is a not-so-veiled reference to Tillerson’s pet energy poverty argument, and as we know, his solution for the developing world is to buy more of what his company sells.

The statement’s conclusion, meanwhile, is especially ironic. It declares the best policy option to meet the challenges of curbing carbon and providing energy to all is — you guessed it — a carbon tax, which the company has been working overtime to make sure never happens.

When senators begin to weigh the pros and cons of Tillerson as the nation’s top diplomat a few weeks from now, they need to take into account the fact that he has spent his entire professional career at a corporation whose foreign policy is not only often at odds with U.S. interests, but one that has done more than any other oil company over the last two decades to spread climate science disinformation and prevent urgently needed government action. If they take the confirmation process seriously — and consider the harm Tillerson has inflicted on the planet to protect ExxonMobil’s bottom line — they will reject him. Let him retire next year with his $69.5 million pension and $218 million in company stock. He’ll be fine — and hopefully won’t be able to do any more damage.

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His articles have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Columbia Journalism Review, The Hill and many other publications.

IMAGE: ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks at  an energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015.  REUTERS/Daniel Kramer/File Photo

Broadcast Networks’ Climate Coverage Was Miserable During This Election Year

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet. 

Secretary of State John Kerry, in Marrakesh this week for international climate talks, recently said it “pissed him off” that there wasn’t a single question asked about climate change during the six hours of televised presidential and vice presidential debates prior to the election.

Kerry’s annoyance is justified. Given rapidly rising global temperatures, dramatic extreme weather events, the global agreement to curb carbon emissions, and stark divisions among the major party candidates, climate change deserved to be one of the most talked-about issues of the campaign. And yet, outside of a passing reference during the “town hall” presidential debate, the candidates were not asked about it, despite the fact that queries about climate change were the fourth most-popular question category submitted by the public for the town hall debate, demonstrating that voters wanted to hear about it.

But it wasn’t only the debates.

Since January, the broadcast television networks barely reported on climate, even though this year is on pace to be the hottest one in the books, setting a record for the third year in a row. Out of more than 1,700 evening, morning, weekly and Sunday public affairs news programs aired between January 1 and October 31, the four commercial broadcast networks that provided moderators for the debates — ABC, Fox, CBS and NBC — collectively aired only 32 segments and 24 briefs on the topic, a total of 56 pieces. And most of the evening news segments ran less than two and a half minutes in length, while each brief was no more than three or four sentences long.

By contrast, the commercial broadcast networks found time for considerably less important topics. Take the coverage of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the fallout over his “Deflategate” football tampering scandal. During the first nine months of this year, ABC, CBS and NBC aired 33 segments and 40 briefs on Brady, for a total of 73 pieces. (Fox’s lone national news show somehow missed the story.) Nearly half of the pieces — 34 — were on Deflategate and Brady’s four-game suspension. The rest reported on such riveting topics as Brady’s haircut, his new $200 cook book, and his new family dog, Fluffy.

Rating the Networks

Fox Broadcasting Company — not to be confused with 21st Century Fox’s cable channel Fox News — was by far the worst offender. The network doesn’t have a nightly news program, but it does air Fox News Sunday, a public affairs show hosted by Chris Wallace, the moderator of the third and final presidential debate. Since the beginning of the year, Fox News Sunday only broached the topic of climate change once, during an interview Wallace did with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein on September 4. Stein mentioned it in one sentence, and Wallace changed the subject. But Fox News Sunday was not alone. The topic didn’t come up on the other Sunday morning political gabfests either unless a guest mentioned it in passing. More often than not that guest was Bernie Sanders. (Given the incidental nature of these remarks, they aren’t included in the segment or brief totals.)

ABC, where town hall debate co-moderator Martha Raddatz works, was only marginally better than Fox, and it runs a lot more news programming. The network has aired only three segments on climate change this year, and they were all variations of the same story. On January 6, Good Morning America ran a relatively long segment on a melting glacier in Iceland that is retreating about a hundred yards every year. Nightline aired a shorter version of the piece that night, and the next morning, Good Morning America did a follow-up. Since then, the network aired only seven climate-related briefs, six on Good Morning America and one on World News Tonight, which merely reported that bumblebees are “threatened by climate change” in a two-sentence piece.

Over the same time frame, NBC aired 11 segments and two briefs on climate change. Seven segments were on Today, and the other four ran on NBC Nightly News, which is anchored by Lester Holt, the moderator of the first presidential debate.

Two of the four Nightly News segments piggybacked on other news stories. On August 20, an NBC correspondent took time off from the Rio Olympics to talk with locals about deforestation. Two weeks later, on September 3, the show reported on the G-20 Economic Summit in China, where President Obama and Chinese President Xi formally committed to the Paris climate agreement. All of the individual segments were well done, but given the magnitude and urgency of climate change, the fact that NBC’s premier daily news program ran only four segments on the topic over the course of nine months is incomprehensible.

CBS, whose correspondent Elaine Quijano moderated the vice presidential debate, aired the most segments and briefs of the broadcast networks — but that’s still not saying much. Nearly all of the briefs — 14 of 15 — and more than half of the segments — 11 of 18 — were on CBS This Morning or CBS Sunday Morning.

Two segments on The CBS Evening News linked climate change with extreme weather events. A July 20 segment on the heat wave broiling residents in more than two dozen states featured a National Weather Service meteorologist explaining how climate change works in simple, understandable terms. Two months later, on September 17, the show reported that the “world is on pace for the warmest year on record, breaking marks set in 2015, 2014 and 2010. But scientists say it’s more than temperatures. They have connected man-made climate change to deadly heat waves, droughts, and devastating floods.”

Those Evening News stories were excellent, but they were two of only five climate-related segments the show aired since the beginning of the year. 60 Minutes, meanwhile, sent a correspondent to Greenland to meet with climate scientists for a segment that aired on January 31 and again on July 31. That was it for the newsmagazine, but its competition at ABC and NBC — 20/20 and Dateline — avoided the issue altogether.

Millions are Watching, and They’re Not Being Served

The relatively few climate-related segments that did air on ABC, CBS and NBC since January demonstrate that the networks are quite capable of covering the subject in a compelling way. The amount of attention they devoted, however, was nowhere near what it should have been given the magnitude of the problem.

Besides their scanty coverage, the networks missed some obvious opportunities to make the climate connection. For example, all of the evening newscasts reported on the devastating rains and flooding in Louisiana last August. According to Climate Nexus, the storm that triggered the flooding “was supercharged by running over a warmer ocean and through an atmosphere made wetter by global warming.” No matter, according to Media Matters, none of the five NBC Nightly News segments, three World News Tonight segments, or three CBS Evening News segments on the floods cited the climate link. That’s just bad reporting.

One other point to consider is when the networks aired the bulk of their climate stories and briefs. Nearly two-thirds of the segments (20 of 32) aired on one of the network morning shows, as did more than 85 percent of the briefs (21 of 24). Why is that important? Because nearly twice as many viewers watch the evening news shows.

That said, despite the fact that the legacy broadcast networks have lost ground to cable and online sources in recent years, all of their news shows still command sizable audiences. According to figures from the week of October 24, slightly more than 23 million people watched one of the three broadcast networks’ evening newscasts. ABC’s World News Tonight led the pack with an audience of nearly 8.19 million viewers, just edging out NBC Nightly News for the top spot. The CBS Evening News came in last with 6.79 million viewers that week.

Fortunately, to paraphrase a Nobel Prize-winning poet, you don’t need a TV network to know which way the wind blows. Despite Donald Trump’s well-publicized contention that climate change is a Chinese-inspired hoax, nearly three-quarters of American voters now say global warming is happening and nearly 70 percent support a carbon tax.

When the story of this past election is written, however, a glaring and mystifying fact for historians will no doubt be how little attention was paid to perhaps the most important issue of our time. And the failure of the commercial broadcast networks to adequately address climate change should be front and center in that story. Their track record covering climate change this year has been so pathetic, it arguably violates the spirit — if not the letter — of the federal requirement that broadcast networks serve the public interest.

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His articles have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Columbia Journalism Review, The Hill and many other publications.

IMAGE: Photo Credit: Gil C / Shutterstock.com

Exposed: Coal Companies Secretly Funding Climate Science Denial

Reposted with permission from Alternet.

Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest investor-owned coal company, declared bankruptcy Wednesday. Among the many consequences, the company’s court-ordered disclosures are likely to yield hard evidence of Peabody’s direct links to climate science denial.

After all, that’s what we learned from the bankruptcy filings of two other major U.S. coal companies, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources. The companies’ lists of creditors accompanying their Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings both cited known climate science deniers. So far, the bankruptcy cases have not revealed the details of these financial relationships. But there is no doubt the coal companies contracted with these groups and individuals to either make a donation or pay for services.

This new evidence is important at a time when coal and oil and gas companies are under increased scrutiny about their ongoing climate science disinformation campaigns. ExxonMobil currently faces state and possibly federal investigations into whether the discrepancies between what the company knew about climate science and what it told its shareholders and the public amounted to fraud.

Of course, there’s no shortage of historical evidence of the coal industry’s track record of deceiving the public about global warming. In 1991, coal trade associations formed a short-lived front group called Information Council on the Environment that ran a national public relations campaign downplaying the known risks of climate change. All through the 1990s, coal trade groups also were members of the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of companies and business groups that disputed the findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and later on, helped scuttle the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty.

More recently, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity paid a lobbying firm to send forged letters to members of Congress from actual nonprofit groups, including the NAACP and the American Association of University Women, espousing fabricated opposition to a 2009 climate change bill.

But such coal company connections have been harder to pin down in the current era of so-called dark money. That’s what makes the latest disclosures so noteworthy: They indicate that coal industry disinformation campaigns have continued even as the scientific evidence that burning fossil fuels is driving climate change has only become stronger.

Revealing Creditor Lists

The creditor list for Alpha Natural Resources, which filed for bankruptcy last August, indicates that the company has been especially active in supporting the denier network. As first reported by The Intercept, Alpha, the fourth largest U.S. coal company, has financial ties to a half-dozen denier organizations, some of which have direct links to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, owners of the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries. The Koch-affiliated groups include Americans for Prosperity, Institute for Energy Research and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a de facto Koch bank that disburses donations from anonymous, wealthy conservatives to groups that advocate rolling back public health, environmental and workplace protections.

Other Alpha creditors include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which questions the legitimacy of climate models; the Heartland Institute, which is probably best known for its billboard likening climate scientists to serial killers; and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which convenes conferences for its state legislator members featuring speakers who distort climate science and disparage renewable energy. One of the speakers at a summer 2014 ALEC conference was Heartland Institute president Joe Bast, whose slide presentation falsely claimed, “There is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change” and “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change … is not a credible source of science or economics.”

Recent bankruptcy filings reveal that Chris Horner, who regularly derides climate science on Fox News Channel, has financial ties to the coal industry. (Screengrab from Fox News)

The Alpha creditor list also includes at least two individuals with links to denier groups. Particularly noteworthy is Chris Horner, an attorney who is closely associated with a number of nonprofit denier groups, including ALEC, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Heartland Institute, the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute (E&E Legal, formerly the American Tradition Institute), and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, another Alpha creditor.

Arch Coal, the second largest U.S. coal company, listed ALEC and E&E Legal in its list of creditors when it filed for Chapter 11 protection in January. Just last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company donated $10,000 to E&E Legal in 2014. E&E Legal’s executive director, Craig Richardson, told the Journal the contribution was for “general support.”

Chris Horner’s Coal Ties Disclosed

The exposure of Horner’s financial ties to coal companies is significant because he is a regular guest on Fox News Channel, which identifies him by his affiliation with CEI or E&E Legal but not by his connection to the coal industry.

Despite his lack of scientific expertise, Horner routinely critiques scientific findings, has called for spurious investigations of climate scientists affiliated with the IPCC and NASA, and has harassed scientists by filing intrusive open records requests with the universities where they work. As legal counsel for the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, which work in tandem, Horner has targeted a number of leading climate scientists, including James Hansen and Katharine Hayhoe. Perhaps his most notorious lawsuit was against the University of Virginia to obtain emails, draft research papers, handwritten notes and other documents related to the work of Michael Mann, lead author of the famous “hockey stick” study demonstrating the link between increased fossil fuel use and rising global temperatures. The Virginia Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the university and Mann, affirming the school’s right to protect the privacy of its researchers from overly broad open records requests.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Alpha paid Horner $18,600 before it declared bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic—an Alpha creditor—paid him $110,000 in 2014, $115,865 in 2013, and $60,449 in 2012, according to the clinic’s tax filings.

Besides Alpha and Arch Coal, Horner has ties to other coal companies. Last summer, he was a featured speaker at a private $7,500-a-person golf and fly-fishing retreat sponsored by Alpha, Arch Coal and four other coal companies: Alliance Resource Partners, Consol Energy, Drummond, and United Coal. After the event— the 2015 annual Coal & Investment Leadership Forum — attendees received an email from the coal company CEOs praising Horner, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonpartisan political watchdog group that first reported the connection between Arch Coal and E&E Legal. “As the ‘war on coal’ continues,” the email stated, “I trust that the commitment we have made to support Chris Horner’s work will eventually create a greater awareness of the illegal tactics being employed to pass laws that are intended to destroy our industry.”

Given the recent spate of bankruptcies, the companies’ commitment to Horner likely will create a greater awareness of something quite different: that the coal industry, along with the likes of ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, is still funding denier groups to spread disinformation about climate science and delay government action. It is time we held these companies accountable.

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His articles have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Columbia Journalism Review, The Hill and many other publications.

Photo: Steam rises from the stakes of the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant outside Point of the Rocks, Wyoming, in this file photo taken March 14, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/Files