Monday, July 21, 2014

THE GEOSTELLAR PRESENTATION ON SOLAR POWER OPPORTUNITIES IN WEST VIRGINIA

On Thursday July 17 Geostellar CEO David Levine addressed a community forum in Shepherdstown, WV that was sponsored by the West Virginia Sierra Club to discuss the implications and opportunities presented by the Environmental Protection Agency's new carbon emissions standards.

At a time when opponents of actions to reduce the threat posed by global warming argue that we face a trade-off between economic growth and jobs on the one hand and environmental regulation on the other, Levine's presentation, which can be seen here, makes three key points:
-- Solar offers major opportunities for job growth both nationally and in West Virginia.
-- Solar is already cost-competitive with carbon-based energy sources in some parts of the country and the price is still dropping, which will make it cost-competitive throughout the US quite soon.
-- Solar is a private-sector phenomenon in which there's money to be made.

Indeed, some studies show that solar already supports more jobs in the US than does coal. Levine explains why it can support more.

The complete presentation can be seen here. David Levine can be contacted at 304-596-0206 or at david.levine@geostellar.com.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

JOE MANCHIN FOR . . . SERIOUSLY?

In what were surely entirely coincidental acts of spontaneous political combustion, the second week in June found Joe Manchin enthusiasts in at least 28 states starting "@statename4Manchin" Twitter accounts using the same profile and header photos and retweeting the same messages from the apparent mothership, "@DraftJoeManchin".

They apparently forgot or never saw my 2012 blog post that began this way.

"Some people believe Senator Joe Manchin will run for president someday. If he does, Manchin will almost certainly tout his term as West Virginia governor during which he cut taxes and balanced budgets in one of the most economically depressed states in the union. And, if Manchin’s candidacy gains traction, his opponents will respond.

"They’ll say, 'Joe, anyone can balance a budget if you’re willing to settle for the worst schools, the worst healthcare, and the worst infrastructure in the nation. West Virginia is the poorest, least educated, and unhealthiest state in America. Is that what we want for the country?'

"The accusation won’t be entirely fair. West Virginia isn’t the worst state in every category. In some, we rank as high as 47th or 48th. But, for political purposes, the claim will be true enough. West Virginians will be humiliated and Manchin’s candidacy will come to an ignominious end."


Since I evidently failed to make the point that Joe Manchin's record suggests he would be a bad candidate and an even worse president, let me try again. First, let's look at "pocketbook issues".

In recent weeks Kansas'Republican governor Sam Brownback has taken a pummeling in left-wing media for leading his state into a budget deficit crisis by cutting business and personal income taxes in the naive and now demonstrably misguided belief that the tax cuts would be self-financing. Brownback fell victim to the "supply side" fantasy that tax cuts will stimulate so much incremental economic activity that government revenues will actually increase despite lower rates.

But, media needn't have waited for a conservative Republican governor to impale his state on the cross of an ideological orthodoxy that's promoted variously by the Koch Brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), The Weekly Standard, The CATO Institute, and other conservative and libertarian organs. Joe Manchin, as Governor, took West Virginia there years earlier . . . and with exactly the same result. In fact, West Virginia is still grappling with the deficits spawned by Manchin's corporate tax cuts, which this year caused the state to raid its rainy day fund, freeze hiring, and raise college tuitions in a place that already suffers from the lowest level of educational attainment and the highest level of delinquency on college student loans in the country.

Oh, and job growth? West Virginia has actually experienced a net job loss since Manchin's corporate tax cuts were enacted in 2007 -- this despite West Virginia being among the states experiencing a boom in natural gas production due to fracking.

That Manchin, a Democrat, should have blazed the trail for Republican economic orthodoxy shouldn't surprise anyone. He was after all ALEC's leading member in West Virginia and is at present the only Democrat in the United States Senate who is listed as a member on ALEC's web site. That fact points to another problem with which Manchin presents us -- he has apparently learned nothing from the failure of austerity economics in his home state.

For the last six years, as the nation's economy has doggedly crawled its way back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Joe Manchin has been one of the leading voices for greater budgetary austerity and slashing government spending in pursuit of every conservative's putative silver bullet for fixing all economic problems -- balancing the federal budget.

Why Manchin and his allies believe in these policies is not entirely clear since every bit of empirical evidence since the crash in 2008 shows that, both in the United States and in Europe, wherever austerity measures have been enacted, they have crippled recovery and left nations such as the UK, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal far behind the United States. Still, Joe Manchin can be found regularly shilling for the Bowles-Simpson budget plan whose most noteworthy features include deep cuts to the social safety net, including Social Security, and an arbitrary cap on federal government spending as a percent of GDP.

All of these measures are necessary we are told by Manchin and the plan's authors, former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson and former Clinton Administration Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, because without them inflation and interest rates will skyrocket bringing the economy to its knees. The problem is that those predictions were made four years ago and we have long since left behind the putative date of armageddon which Messrs. Manchin, Simpson, and Bowles assured us was nigh.

What makes Manchin's continued adherence to these policies, which have failed both in theory and in fact, doubly mysterious is that they would be truly awful for his home state. West Virginia residents are among the most dependent in the nation on federal programs for a large portion of their incomes. Meanwhile, the state's economy offers few jobs and those that exist pay wages that are almost 20% lower than the national average. Consequently, West Virginia would be among the states hardest hit by the spending cuts contained in Bowles-Simpson and would benefit less than nearly every other state from the plan's tax cuts. The combined effect would be a significant reductions in personal incomes and economic activity in the state.

In that regard, even Manchin's preferences for which taxes to cut and which to maintain are strange. A couple of years ago the nation was facing the the nearly simultaneous termination of the now famous Bush income tax cuts and the payroll tax holiday that had been implemented by the Obama administration in response to the economic crisis. As it happened, the the cessation of the Bush tax cuts and the sunsetting of the 3% reduction in payroll taxes would both have removed about $750 million a year from West Virginia's economy. But, while Joe Manchin supported extending the Bush tax cuts on the grounds that "you don't raise taxes during a recession", he opposed extending the payroll tax holiday, which benefitted far more West Virginia families, on the grounds that "we can't afford another dime of debt". The problem with Manchin's argument was that the extension of the Bush tax cuts actually increased the federal deficit by about 50% more than an extension of the payroll tax holiday would have.

That's why it's perfectly reasonable to ask of Manchin, should he ever run for president, why he preferred a plan that would have disproportionately benefitted the wealthiest of taxpayers, of which West Virginia has few, over one whose benefits would have been spread far more broadly and would have done less damage to his state and the federal budget.

Manchin's views on the environment are, if anything, even more worrying than his economic policies. When during his 2010 Senate race he famously ran a TV commercial in which he put a bullet through an effigy of the "Cap and Trade" bill that had been tacked to a tree, Manchin signaled two things. First, that he is one of the great proponents of the most powerful and enduring myth of West Virginia politics -- that in defending the coal industry he is defending the jobs and incomes of West Virginians. And second, that he is willing, when his funders call the tune, to become absolutely intransigent and unwilling to compromise.

Unfortunately for Manchin, the facts, with respect to both the economic value of the coal industry and the existence and likely impact of man-made global warming, are undermining his positions quickly and incontrovertibly. The data clearly show that:

-- The loss of coal mining jobs, which has been epidemic in West Virginia since the 1940's, has little if anything to do with environmental regulation.
-- In the last 60 years there has been no correlation between growth in coal production and growth in local commerce and jobs.
-- Increases in GDP, especially those stemming from increased coal and natural gas production, have not generated increases in jobs and income for West Virginians.
-- The health consequences of coal mining can be dire for local residents.

And then, of course, there are the global consequences of climate change, which is a subject that Joe Manchin, like most West Virginia politicians, studiously avoids discussing. He focuses instead on the "war on coal" and reflexively opposes all EPA policies that seek to stem water pollution, air pollution, and greenhouse gases even though his own constituents are among those who are most severely afflicted by these scourges.

These and other policy choices have allowed Manchin to portray himself as a maverick within the Democratic Party and, in this day of rabid partisanship, as a "moderate" who tries to make Washington work. In fact, Manchin and former Republican presidential candidate, John Huntsman, have branded the concept by forming the online group, No Labels, which describes itself as "a growing citizens’ movement of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving".

This and other initiatives have helped Manchin forge a reputation for being politically astute, which is a bit peculiar considering his own electoral performance and that of the West Virginia Democratic Party, which he largely reshaped in his own image during his two terms as governor.

Both before and after becoming West Virginia's governor in 2004, Joe Manchin was a disciple of Bill Clinton and an enthusiastic practitioner of "triangulation" -- Clinton's strategy of co-opting his political opponents' more popular proposals by adopting them usually in a form modified just enough to allow Clinton to claim to have improved on the original idea while also trumpeting his bipartisanship.

The problem is that, in Manchin's hands, triangulation sometimes became a wholesale abandonment of principle and identity for West Virginia's Democratic Party. As a result, West Virginia, whose House of Delegates and state Senate have for decades been controlled by Democrats, turned sharply to the right on tax and budgetary policy during Manchin's tenure as governor virtually extinguishing any differences with Republicans and plunging the state into even deeper economic anemia than it had known previously.

Democrats have been rewarded in recent elections with declining majorities in both the house and senate, putting the party on the precipice of losing in the upcoming election one or both majorities that it has maintained since 1930. And, although Manchin has won by double digit margins in his last two elections, he has been opposed by a Republican, John Raese, who is an almost cartoonishly bad Tea Party dogmatist.

Raese distinguished himself by joining Texas governor Rick Perry in suggesting that Social Security is unconstitutional and spoke wistfully about the way capitalism was before it was corrupted by socialist policies such as the minimum wage, child labor laws, and worker safety laws. Raese's ideological handicaps were compounded by the fact that for all purposes other than getting elected to the US Senate he isn't even a West Virginian. He, his wife, and children live in Florida, an issue that became problematic when it was discovered that he took a tax deduction on his house in Florida that is available only to taxpayers whose primary residence is in that state. Raese finessed the issue by claiming that it was his wife and not himself who owned the house.

In summary, under Manchin's leadership West Virginia Democrats have nearly squandered decades-long majorities in state government. And he is yet to be tested at the ballot box by an opponent other than what boxing announcers would describe as a tomato can.

In politics, Joe Manchin has taken his party to the brink of disaster and, on policy, he has taken his constituents over the edge.

Draft Joe Manchin for president . . . seriously?




Wednesday, July 16, 2014

WRONG, WRONG & WRONG -- West Virginia politicians who oppose the new EPA climate rules

Tomorrow night I'll be speaking at a community forum sponsored by the West Virginia Sierra Club. My plan is to point out that events of the past few weeks have shown that those who condemn the EPA's recent adoption of rules regarding greenhouse gases emitted by power generators are wrong -- wrong on the science, wrong on the law, and wrong on the economics and what the rules mean for West Virginia.

First -- why they're wrong on the science.

I've written previously of the mendacity of West Virginia first district congressman David McKinley who variously denies that the climate is warming; that warming, if it's happening, is the result of human activity; and that warming is a bad thing. And I've kidded McKinley about his reliance on a right-wing propaganda mill called the Heartland Institute as a source for his claims.

But, this week McKinley outdid himself. Perhaps realizing that he and his industry backers can't win on the facts, he decided to banish facts altogether by offering an amendment to an appropriations bill that would block the US Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers from using funds "to design, implement, or carry out specified assessments regarding climate change."

In other words, McKinley wants to require the government to cover its eyes, its ears, and its other senses in order to ignore the truth. It is, I pray, the last desperate act of a zealot who sees that his case is becoming hopeless.

Meanwhile, our attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, succeeded in showing that he and his co-religionists are wrong on the law.

Morrisey regularly complains about federal government overreach, particularly by the EPA. But, when given the chance to prove his charge in court, Morrisey has lost every time. Before and since being elected to office Morrisey has consistently pointed to five cases -- all involving the EPA and all involving industry efforts to evade rules that would rein in air and water pollution -- as ones on which he would expose what he described as the unlawful actions of the EPA and the Obama administration.

As of Monday when his side lost in a case that would have made it easier to engage in mountaintop removal, Morrisey has now been defeated in court in every single one of those cases. He and his positions have been repudiated, rebuffed, and routed. And that's good. But, the sad part is that, while he has accomplished nothing for West Virginia and the nation while pursuing a quixotic, ideologically driven agenda, Morrisey has been able to use his office and public funds to burnish his political resume to appeal to the most extreme elements of the electorate and more importantly to industrialists and their political action committees who bankroll the policies for which he shills.

Finally, in addition to being shown to be wrong on the science and on the law, the opponents of protecting our environment and the health of West Virginians have also been shown to be wrong on the economics.

The McKinley's and the Morrisey's, but sadly also the Tennant's, the Casey's, the Manchin's, and the Mooney's, justify their opposition to the EPA's new climate rules on the grounds that by defending the coal and natural gas industries, they are defending West Virginia jobs and prosperity. In other words, they are perpetuating the great myth of West Virginia politics and policy. But, recently the falsehood of the myth has been born out by two sets of statistics.

I recently wrote a column that went back more than eighty years to examine the relationship between growth in coal production and growth in jobs for West Virginians. The analysis demonstrated that rather than jobs growing in response to increases in coal production, exactly the reverse has been the case, which is why we went from over 130,000 coal mining jobs in the 1930's to less than twenty thousand today even as production grew.
And, of the ninety thousand jobs that have been lost, nearly 80% vanished even before the EPA was founded. Indeed the rate of job loss reached its peak during the Reagan administration when environmental regulations were least vigorously enforced.

Similarly, growth in the natural gas industry -- advertised by many as an economic game-changer for West Virginia -- has also failed utterly to lift our economy. A couple of weeks ago the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that in 2013 West Virginia ranked third in GDP growth among the states, growing at a rate almost three times that of the nation as a whole. And most of that growth was due to skyrocketing natural gas production.

But, as with the coal industry, almost none of the economic benefit landed in West Virginia. At the same time West Virginia was among the nation's leaders in GDP growth, we were dead last in income growth. And, in a year in which the US economy added more than two and a half million new jobs, precisely none of those jobs came to West Virginia. In fact, we actually lost jobs.

As I said, wrong on the science, wrong on the law, and wrong on the economics. That's why, when those who oppose the new EPA regulations claim that they're defending West Virginia jobs and the economy, we need to call them out. We need to confront them with the facts and expose the their claim for what it is -- a lie.

And, if you do that, you will not only be doing a service for present and future generations of West Virginians, you will be doing a service for tens of millions of people around the world whose lives will be irreparably harmed if we aren't able to stop or at least mitigate the effects of global warming.

Thank you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

PUBLIC FORUM IN SHEPHERDSTOWN: WV AND THE NEW EPA CLIMATE RULES

Thursday, July 17, 7 - 8:30PM, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, 100 West Washington St., Shepherdstown, WV. 304-535-8150. Sponsored by the West Virginia Sierra Club.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

GOOD NEWS! UNEMPLOYMENT IS GROWING IN WEST VIRGINIA

For the better part of two years West Virginia media outlets cheered the state's declining unemployment rate despite the fact that the number of people with jobs was actually shrinking. The unemployment rate dropped not due to job creation but because emigration, disability, retirement, and hopelessness caused workers to vanish from the marketplace even faster than jobs.

But, in the last six months, things have turned around and West Virginia has been adding jobs -- more than twelve and a half thousand since January. But, state news organizations are treating it as bad news because, during this period of job growth, the unemployment rate has increased from 5.9% to 6.3%.


The reason for the rise in the unemployment rate is that, while twelve and a half thousand jobs have been added, sixteen and a half thousand people have re-entered the work force, probably because they see greater opportunities to find jobs.

That's good news! And it should be reported as such. Now, would someone please send a memo to editors at the state's media outlets informing them of the fact?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

WEST VIRGINIA: GROWTH WITHOUT PROSPERITY

The updated Bureau of Economic Analysis website provides yet further evidence of the astonishing failure of West Virginia's extractive industries, particularly natural gas, to deliver prosperity for West Virginia residents and communities even as they generate great wealth for people elsewhere. In this case, the failure is illustrated by a nearly complete disconnect between GDP growth and personal income growth in West Virginia.

Between 2012 and 2013 West Virginia ranked third in the nation in GDP growth trailing only North Dakota and Wyoming. At 5.1% West Virginia's growth was nearly three times the national average of 1.8%.

But, despite that smashing performance, West Virginia's personal income growth -- the money you and I take home in paychecks and other sources of income -- was dead last among all of the states at only 1.5% compared to 2.6% nationally.

So again we are confronted with a problem that West Virginia's political leaders almost without exception fail to acknowledge, never mind address. Growth in extractive industries such as natural gas and coal patently fails to generate prosperity for West Virginians as measured by personal income and, as I have shown elsewhere, by jobs.

That fact must be relentlessly hammered home to West Virginia's leaders and would-be officeholders who will otherwise continue shilling for industry interests on the demonstrably false premise that by doing so they are defending jobs and the economic interests of West Virginians.

The original version of this post incorrectly stated that personal income in the US grew by 2.7% between 2012 and 2013. The figure has been corrected to read 2.6%.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

NO SENSE OF DECENCY: WEST VIRGINIA'S LEADERS AND THE POLITICS OF COAL

“Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

With those words, attorney Joseph Welch scolded red-baiting Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy during a 1954 senate hearing and, in an instant, released the pent up disgust of the nation toward a politician whose reckless accusations poisoned public debate, fomented fear, damaged lives, and exacerbated tensions at a time when the possibility of nuclear war was far from remote.

If that was all McCarthy had to do to earn Welch’s scolding, which caused those present in the gallery that day to erupt in applause, then how severe a scolding have West Virginia politicians earned with their ferocious and equally false denunciations of the EPA’s new carbon emission regulations? Their complaints and predictions of catastrophe, like McCarthy’s accusations, distort the truth, substitute hysteria for understanding, induce paranoia, and worse, they flirt with the possibility of destruction on a global scale if their arguments gain wide acceptance. As it is, their reflexive condemnation of any measure that reduces coal consumption has plunged West Virginia into a state of delusion about the coal industry and its role in our economy, particularly with respect to jobs. But, amid their blizzard of warnings, accusations, and threats, it’s what West Virginia leaders don’t say and apparently don’t even contemplate that earns them a shaming at least as severe as the one Welch inflicted on McCarthy sixty years ago.

When was the last time you heard Governor Tomblin, Senator Manchin, Congresswoman Capito, Secretary of State Tennant, or Attorney General Morrisey discuss or even so much as mention the social, economic, and human costs of mining and burning coal both for West Virginians and people elsewhere? Not just the effects of manmade global warming, but the effects on the health of those who live downwind from where coal is burned as well as the health of families who live in the vicinity of coal mines and whose members work in them?

For that matter, how many of the recent news stories about the proposed reductions in carbon emissions enumerated or even summarized the health and economic benefits of doing so? The supposed costs have been reported in excruciating detail. By now, even casual news watchers have heard the Chamber of Commerce prediction that the new regulations will cost the US economy $50 billion and 224,000 jobs annually, that dozens of the nation’s coal-fired power plants will have to close by 2030, and that electric rates will skyrocket. But, how many people know that between 2,000 and 7,000 Americans die prematurely every year due to coal-induced conditions? How many know that sea level rise threatens to displace more than 50 million people who live in low-lying regions around the world. How many know that the cost of offsetting the effects of sea level rise in poor countries is more than $100 billion annually and that New York City is already spending more than $1 billion dollars by itself in an effort to secure its electric grid against increasingly severe floods brought about by global warming? How many know that more than 70,000 coal miners have already been killed by black lung disease and more will follow? How many people know that in this year alone millions of Americans have temporarily or permanently lost access to clean water because of coal?

Finally, how many people recall that industry has a long and ignominious history of fear mongering with hysterical claims of imminent disaster as a result of environmental standards? Claims of massive job loss and skyrocketing electric prices go back more than forty years to the dawn of the EPA and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Blackouts, “part-time electricity”, “galloping unemployment”, and unaffordable electric rates were just some of the bogeymen that industry promised would attack us if we dared protect the environment.

Instead, none . . . not one of those things materialized because innovative technologies and changes in consumer behavior jumped into the void just as they are doing right now with the rise of solar power, the cost of which has nearly reached a point of price-competitiveness with coal and will probably soon undercut coal as natural gas is already doing.

The bottom line is that the costs of which the Chamber of Commerce warns are likely to be exaggerated and, meanwhile, the costs of inaction are far from zero. In fact, the cost of doing nothing appears to be far greater by every meaningful standard. Or does that simply not matter? Has our single-minded obsession with preserving West Virginia’s coal mining industry at all costs made us completely numb to the crippling effects of that industry not just on others, but on ourselves as well?

At what point must we do what West Virginia’s political leaders refuse to do -- look at both sides of the scale and then look at ourselves in the mirror? Because when we do, we will have to deal with the question of how much expense and misery we are willing to inflict on so many others just to keep what we think the world owes us. And, if we conclude that we’re willing to inflict any level of expense and misery that may be necessary, which is the position our politicians seem to be taking, what does that make us? Wouldn’t we be just about the most selfish people ever to walk the earth? Wouldn’t we deserve and need a latter day Joseph Welch to disabuse us of our self-interested obliviousness?

Still, some will resist. People such as West Virginia congressman David McKinley will continue to insist that man-made global warming is a hoax while also claiming that reports of the growing prevalence of Black Lung disease and the dire effects of mercury, selenium, and coal ash on the environment and on human beings are wrong or irrelevant. The lengths to which they will go in trying to maintain a fa├žade of credibility for such claims are endless and have become so pathetic as to be cartoonish. But, as with all conspiracy theorists, they must at the end of the day grapple with this simple and utterly disarming question.

If claims of man-made global warming and all the other dire consequences of burning coal are merely elements of a massive hoax, who is perpetrating the hoax and why? What shared ulterior motive unites 97% of the world’s climate scientists and dozens of governments many of which regularly fight with one another vigorously over other issues?

The answer, of course, is that there is no such ulterior motive and no such hoax. The fact is that man-made global warming and the dire health effects of mining and burning coal are real, they’re here, and they’re going to get worse unless we act and, by doing so, inspire other nations such as India and China to act as well. Thankfully, both of those nations appear to be responding.

That's why, armed with overwhelming empirical evidence and speaking on behalf of the millions of people who stand to lose their homes, their livelihoods, their health, and sometimes their lives if we continue to burn coal, I ask Governor Tomblin, Congresswoman Capito, Ms. Tennant, Attorney General Morrisey, Congressman McKinley, and countless other West Virginia politicians who continue to deny reality and to place the interests of the coal industry above those of West Virginia, America and humanity . . .

Have you no sense of decency? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

 
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