U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks) is urging the U.S. House to pass H.R. 3826, a bill that would roll back regulation of carbon dioxide pollution, the primary greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted in burning coal. The so-called “Electricity Security and Affordability Act” is an effort by congressional Republicans to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from ever having any authority to control the carbon pollution coming from coal-fired power plants.
Carbon dioxide pollution is a driver of climate change. Additionally, carbon emissions have a direct effect on health and well-being. A Stanford University scientist found in a state-of-the-art study that globally, “upward of 20,000 air-pollution-related deaths per year per degree Celsius may be due to this greenhouse gas.” There are economic risks associated with carbon pollution as well. Analysts say that without reducing GHG emissions, we’ll pay for it in the long-term in the form of higher food prices, water scarcity, decreased water quality, property damage, loss of wildlife, ecological damage, higher insurance premiums, infrastructure damage, lost revenue, loss of wetlands, and heat related illness.
You may or may not be aware, but the EPA has been working on these new rules to regulate GHG for a while now. Environmentalists and climate scientists are hoping for strong new regulations on future power plants that will severely curb carbon pollution. Conservatives are flailing to stop implementation of such rules, decrying them as evidence of a “war on coal.”
According to ALGOP PR Central, Rogers claimed in calling for passage of H.R. 3826, “As the president’s War on Coal continues, we will almost certainly see increased electricity bills … the last thing we need is the Obama Administration enforcing unachievable electricity production rules that ultimately take more money out of the pockets of East Alabama families and discourage the creation and retention of good-paying Alabama jobs.”
That’s nonsense. As was widely reported in 2013, Alabama Power customers already pay some of the highest bills in the nation. Strike that item off Rogers’ list of complaints. As for the coal jobs shout out, Rogers must have missed a key statement from the state’s largest monopoly last year: Alabama Power, according to its own spokesperson, doesn’t plan to build any new power plants in the state until at least 2030. Meanwhile, the company plans to convert or has already converted several existing units from coal to a mix of natural gas and coal. It’s not a war on coal, it’s about business.
Natural gas is now competitive with coal for electricity generation and has fewer environmental and health risks associated with it. (It is important to acknowledge here that there are legitimate concerns about fracking, among other issues with natural gas, but that’s another discussion.)
Additionally, clean, renewable energy (e.g., wind and solar) is increasingly affordable and reliable. Innovation in the “green energy” sector has already been an economic boom for many regions across the globe, and we have similar potential here in Alabama. “Jobs, jobs, jobs!” as Twinkle Cavanaugh might say, had she not already been bribed by the coal industry not to.
So what’s up with Roger’s urgency on a bill that will get approval from neither the Democrat-controlled Senate nor President Obama? Money.
According to OpenSecrets.org, some of the top donors to Rogers since 2002 include Southern Company, the parent company of Alabama Power, arguably the most powerful institution in Alabama politics; Balch & Bingham, a law firm which represents and lobbies for Alabama Power; Drummond Company (one of Alabama’s most profitable companies, with $5 billion in revenues); and Jim Wilson & Associates, a real estate development firm with ties to the University of Alabama that coincidentally owns Galleria Towers, where Walter Energy is headquartered.
Speaking of money, let’s take a deeper dive.
—Rep. Rogers makes $174,000 per year as a congressman. His net worth is estimated to be up to $3,465,000.
—Walter J. Scheller, III, CEO of Walter energy, reportedly earns $2,615,052 per year.
—Charles McCrary, outgoing CEO of Alabama Power, made $8,045,613 in 2012.
—Thomas Fanning, CEO of Southern Company, was compensated $13,035,348 in 2012.
—Garry Neil Drummond, CEO of Drummond Co., is widely perceived to be a bully billionaire.
—The median household income in AL-District 3 in 2009 was $37,501.
My guess is that the average Alabama family would happily support reducing carbon emissions coming from future power plants if they knew the economic, health and environmental price of doing nothing. Perhaps Rogers should stop misleading Alabamians about good policy and instead work to bring new jobs and renewed economic growth to Alabama in the form of modern, clean energy.
The bellyaching about a (phony) war on coal is nothing more than disingenuous pandering by a man more accountable to corporate interests than his own constituents. Rogers needs to come clean about why he supports the Electricity Security and Affordability Act. Hell, it could even be his 2014 campaign slogan: “I do it for the money.” He’d be the most honest man in D.C.
Updated at 10:12 a.m. March 6, 2014, to reflect that Drummond may or may not be the most profitable company in Alabama today — due to an international drop in coal prices. Drummond is a private company, so financial data is not readily available.