Bits and Bobs of Information
Before writing this diary, I knew little about the financial side of coal. Some tidbits:
* Total United States coal production 2005-06: 1131.5 million short tons (eia.doe.gov).
* There are 72,340 employees involved in domestic coal mining — only about half of which actually mine (bls.gov).
* As of 1999, there were 984,453 million tonnes of proved recoverable coal reserves worldwide — of which the United States has 249,994 million tonnes, over 25% (worldenergy.org).
* There are four types of coal: lignite, sub-bituminous, bituminous, and anthracite. Loosely speaking, lignite coal is the lowest quality and anthracite coal is the highest. Generally, I won’t bother to differentiate between the different types because the data often doesn’t allow me to do so completely or correctly (wikipedia.org).
Where is coal mined?
The first step in understanding why coal is on the lips of so many politicians is to understand just where coal is located in America. It turns out that it’s located all throughout the country, but in dramatically different quantities. Three states produce 60% of the coal in the United States: Wyoming (36%), West Virginia (14%), and Kentucky (11%). However, 26 states produced some coal, with 16 states contributing at least 1% of the United States coal production in 2004-05 (eia.doe.gov).
Remember that this is geography, not demographics. It just might be that Mississippi’s coal production is a bigger share of their state economy than Texas’ — so while the above map is a nice proxy for the “importance” of coal production in a state, it certainly isn’t the end-all be-all. Furthermore, as mentioned above, coal has different qualities, and these qualities are “batched” — that is, a single mine rarely excavates more than one or two of the qualities. Therefore, not all of those states are producing coal that could presently be used for so-called clean coal or coal-to-liquids projects. However, there is hope that scientists will be able to discover processes which allow all kinds of coal to be used, thereby keeping all coal-producing states interested in these applications.
Where is coal used?
Coal comes out of the ground all over America, but where is it used? After all, coal producers may not be the only ones interested in helping out the coal industry — coal consumers might be concerned about rising coal prices. To understand this question, first note that only 4% of coal is exported (eia.doe.gov), and of the 96% remaining for domestic use, over 90% is used to generate electricity (eia.doe.gov). So, states which generate lots of their electricity using coal are more susceptible to increased prices in coal, and therefore may be more likely to oppose any limits to coal production. Within the United States, 51.8% of electricity produced is from coal fired plants. Below is a map of all states (plus DC)’s usage of coal to generate electricity within their state (eia.doe.gov).
Notice that when the map below is compared to the production map, there is quite a bit of correlation. This isn’t surprising — coal is cheaper if you don’t have to ship it far. However, it’s also worth noting that the Southeast seaboard consumes a fair bit of coal for its electricity generation without any production whatsoever. Additionally, a cluster near the great lakes, including Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa consume quite a bit of coal without producing any. It’s not clear that Congressmen from states which use — but don’t generate — coal are much on the side for or against coal; I suspect that Republicans are more likely to work for the coal industry and Democrats are less likely, but with such a small sampling, it’s hard to predict.
Who is Coal’s Congress?
You see the map above of where coal is located, and the political uber-geeks can instantly apply that map to the US Senate breakdown. For the rest of us, here it is — first the political party breakdown of all coal producing states, then just the states that produced 1% or more of US coal.
22 Democrats, 30 Republican. 7 states with 2 Dems, 8 split, 11 with 2 GOP. 4 Kerry, 18 Bush. 63 Electoral votes Kerry, 197 Bush.
14 Democrats, 18 Republican. 4 states with 2 Dems, 6 split, 6 with 2 GOP. 2 Kerry, 14 Bush. 42 Electoral votes Kerry, 138 Bush.
This should help explain some of why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) decision to name Ed Markey (D-MA) head of a new committee on climate change, passing over folks like John Dingell (D-MI), created such a clamor. Notice California and Massachusetts on the maps, and now notice Michigan. Neither California nor Massachusetts produce coal nor use much, but Michigan uses quite a bit. Furthermore, since global warming is as much about petroleum as it is coal, and since Michigan is home to a number of automobile companies, there’s obvious tension.
If state public policy influencers understand and appreciate the above, what can they do within Massachusetts to help relieve the pressure many politicians feel from the coal lobby? Here are some thoughts…
* Expand and extend the Massachusetts RPS requirements. For those who are unfamiliar, it works like this: beginning in 2003, electricity providers had to use 0.5% renewable. That increases to 4% by 2009, and then is slated to increase 1% per year, indefinitely — after 2009, the obligation will rise by one percent each year until such time as DOER may set for freezing the minimum percentage. Beacon Hill can legislate these increases, which (a) guarantees that they will really happen and that the DOER can’t undercut the effort, and (b) sends a signal to electricity providers that this program will continue and grow, and that they’d better get off of their duffs and actually find some renewable energy instead of allowing the providers to buy their way out of one-third of their 2004 obligation. The cost of the buyout was only $51.41 per MWh in 2004 and has increased to $55.13 by 2006. Obviously, increasing this fine will induce the electricity providers to actually come up with the renewable energy resources (which, BTW, don’t have to be in Massachusetts, making compliance easier to obtain).
* Gently expand the RPS to include municipally owned electricity suppliers, currently exempt.
* Increase taxes and regulations on the Filthy Five. Poll
ution restrictions were passed in 2001, but more could be done. While these plants may now be behaving better, they are still emitting pollutants. Eventually, abiding by the adequately strict regulations becomes too expensive and new power plants will be built instead. This is important because power plants built before 1970 are “grandfathered” and even in light of the 2001 regulations are still far nastier to the environment than newer (still nasty) coal fired plants.
* Work to expand RGGI. Encourage DC, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Rhode Island to become full participants, as well as Canadian provinces New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Bringing Quebec and/or Ontario to the table would be a major coup. By expanding RGGI’s participants, demand for coal will be reduced, resulting in fewer states as producers or major producers, thereby reducing coal’s influence nationally.
* Require electricity suppliers in Massachusetts to allow customers the option of purchasing renewable energy, at the appropriate (neither profit nor cost inducing) additional cost to the consumer. Many states offer this option, but Massachusetts doesn’t on a state level. Why the heck not? Let us liberal elites with money to burn help finance the green power revolution personally! Of course, in light of the RPS, the utility should not be allowed to include the green energy purchased “extra” by customers to also count toward their RPS standard — this should be above and beyond their RPS requirements.
* Ban construction of any new coal fueled electrical generating plants in Massachusetts. If you want to be “generous”, you might allow the generation provided that it comes with the decommissioning of the same generating capacity of a pre-1970 plant (ie a member of the Filthy Five). This won’t reduce coal demand, but it will reduce pollution somewhat.
* Expand tax exemptions, rebates, grants, and other methods to encourage people to (a) create their own renewable energy locally using solar or wind, and (b) to reduce their electricity demand outright.
Since only 30% of electricity generated in Massachusetts is coal, there isn’t much that Massachusetts can do to reduce demand on the national market — but, on the bright side, since its “only” 30% it will be that much easier to reduce the demand to 0%. Only 1.2% of electricity generated in California uses coal as fuel — Massachusetts can get there too.
In conclusion, 22 Democrats represent states that produce some coal, 14 of which represent states producing at least 1% of the United States’ coal. While the total number of coal jobs is relatively small within most of the states, no politician wants to be tied to the elimination of jobs in his home state — and because the coal industry results in employment in other areas (transportation, science and technology, electricity generation, etc), the impact of increased coal regulations could be presented as significant. If individual states could reduce their reliance on coal for electricity generation that might relieve some Congressmen from the pressure of supporting coal initiatives, but that’s not so easy to do in light of increasing natural gas prices and a reluctance to increase nuclear power capacity. Renewables are the key — both for reducing the number of politicians who feel pressure to support coal production and usage, and for increasing the number of politicians who can actively work toward legislation that increases the number of jobs and price security while decreasing the pollution and negative health effects that coal usage provides.
Note 1: This is the first part in a 3ish part series. I’m hoping to crank them out about once a week. Solar should be next, then one on wind. Please feel free to pester me for the next parts if you find them interesting, or to encourage other related topics.
Note 2: The maps were created using Texas A&M U’s mapmaker utility. They have tUS and state maps; unfortunately the state map for Massachusetts is based on counties and not cities and towns. That the map utility is from Texas might also explain Texas’ apparent size dominance on the map.
Note 3: Charley on the MTA encouraged me to write this based on my post on his Pelosi’s end run around Petro-Dems (with Markey as fullback) diary. Thank you for the encouragement Charley!