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 Post subject: Candidates Say Coal Jobs Remain Important
PostPosted: Mon May 17, 2010 3:03 pm 
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Location: Anthracite Region of PA
Candidates say coal jobs remain important
By Kent Jackson (Staff Writer)
Published: May 17, 2010


Despite a decades-long downturn in coal production and increased concerns about coal's negative effects on the environment, candidates in the 11th Congressional District said jobs in the industry remain important to the region.

The candidates point out that companies mining coal today repair land scarred by miners of yesteryear. They also said industry has found uses for the region's famed hard coal that don't involve burning it as fuel and don't add to the buildup of carbon dioxide that is warming the climate.

Democrat Paul E. Kanjorski, seeking re-election in the 11th District that he has represented for 26 years, sees a future for anthracite as a raw material for carbon fiber. Lighter yet stronger than steel, carbon fiber is used for everything from military helmets to auto parts, said Kanjorski, who envisions its use as a building material.

"Literally our whole society will become a carbon fiber society. What's necessary to make carbon fiber is carbon, and anthracite is 94 percent carbon," he said Monday when presenting grants for water systems at two business parks in the Hazleton area.

As long as coal remains an energy source, however, Kanjorski said the ash must be disposed of safely. He said he would ensure that regulations the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed for disposal of coal ash will meet the region's needs.

On May 4, the EPA proposed for the first time that the federal government, rather than state governments, should regulate coal ash because of the toxic metals it contains. The rupture of a dam holding a slurry of coal ash in Kingston, Tenn., in December 2008 focused national attention on disposal methods.

In a 563-page proposal, EPA said it might regulate ash as hazardous waste or as household waste and asked the public to comment on the alternatives for 90 days.

Brian Kelly, a college professor and Democrat running in the 11th District, said he has as big a problem with EPA's indecision as with coal ash.

"Waste and its potentially harmful effects are no joke. Poison is not a joke. But 563 pages that cannot come to a conclusion are a joke," Kelly said in an e-mail.

He said coal ash contains substances that can be dangerous depending on the concentrations.

"We've lived with coal ash," he said, "for quite a long time. My concern is the overreaction to Big Brother."

Rather than having the federal government regulate ash disposal, Kelly suggested letting the state Department of Environmental Protection continue to set the rules.

Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, the only Republican running to represent the 11th District, said the EPA under the Clinton administration decided against regulating coal ash as hazardous waste.

"With the EPA considering regulating coal ash as a hazardous material, this is another attack on the coal industry, prompted by the government's own ineptness in Tennessee," Barletta said.

He thinks clean coal technology should be part of the nation's energy plan.

"Especially in Northeastern Pennsylvania, we are standing on more energy potential than probably anywhere else in the country. We need to make sure that voice speaks loudly in Washington because of the jobs it creates for us," Barletta said.

At least one country, Germany, the largest in Europe, found that switching to renewable energy sources creates jobs. More Germans now work in renewables than are employed in the coal and fossil fuel industries, Connie Hedegaard, the European Union's commissioner for climate action, told National Public Radio on March 26.

Democrat Corey O'Brien, a Lackawanna County commissioner who's running for Congress in the 11th District, said preserving jobs in the coal industry can support the region while the economy moves to greener fuels and jobs providing new sources of energy.

"As a father with young children, I think about that a lot. What environment are we handing down to our children," O'Brien said.

In a book "Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity," James Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration calls for a rapid end to coal emissions. Research by Hansen finds that reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million can stave off disastrous effects of climate change. The level current is 387 ppm.

Carbon dioxide results from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Levels of carbon will fall, Hansen writes, either by leaving coal in the ground or by storing carbon emissions after combustion, a process that in theory will require 25 percent more energy to capture the emissions and in practice hasn't spread commercially.

"If you want to get rid of coal, just go ahead and turn off all the electricity now. It's not feasible, nor is it necessary," Duane Feagley of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Council, an industry group, said.

Feagley testified last month before a joint committee of the state House and Senate about the future of the coal industry. Anthracite is used to heat homes and in water filters, not to generate electricity. The anthracite industry employs about 800 people, he said.

State Sen. David Argall, R-Tamaqua, who chaired the hearing on the future of coal, said the 17th District, which he wants to represent in Congress, still depends on coal.

"Especially in this difficult economy, even a small number of jobs is important. Certainly, the industry has lost an incredible amount of jobs since the 1940s. I still think that it is part of our future," Argall said.

Climate change is among a large number of issues that Argall thinks the country has to consider. He said voters in the 17th District want ash disposed of safely, but not so expensively as to force cogeneration plants to close, he said.

Cogeneration plants generally produce more ash per unit of energy that coal-fired plants because they burn waste coal that contains more rock.

Jeff McNelly of the Anthracite Region of Independent Power Producers, which represents cogeneration plant operators, doesn't know how much disposal costs would increase if EPA regulates ash as hazardous.

The ash probably would have to be moved out of state to approved landfills.

"As in any business, if the costs to remove the item are more than you receive for the sale, you're out of business," McNelly said.

He pointed out that the cogeneration industry developed after the oil crisis of the 1970s as a way of producing energy from waste.

"This group was born in a government that was encouraging. We find that tone to be changing," McNelly said. "What we see happening there is this sense (that) you have to get rid of coal for wind or solar to make a presence or become part of the overall energy pattern."

Thinking of the Tennessee spill, McNelly called for regulating ash disposal as the National Academy of Sciences recommended.

In a report four years ago, the academy said putting ash into mines restores land and can neutralize acidic water, but also poses health risks.

The report said the federal government could set enforceable standards that would give states authority to regulate the use of ash to fill mines.

Tim Holden, a Democrat who seeks re-election in the 17th District that he has represented the past 19 years, wrote that the EPA seemed to be "leaning in the wrong direction" of regulating ash as hazardous.

If the EPA takes that step, Holden wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama that numerous colleagues in Congress signed, electricity prices could increase and efforts to recycle ash could face legal hurdles.

Holden didn't respond to offers to comment for this article.

His opponent in the Democratic primary, Sheila Dow Ford, a Harrisburg attorney, said regulations have to allow companies opportunities to employ people and earn reasonable profits.

"It's a holistic process. The two must be viewed hand in hand," Dow Ford said.

She supports development of alternative energy such as wind farms and drilling in the Marcellus Shale for natural gas if drillers pay an excise tax and treat the polluted drilling water. She wonders why the plan to convert coal to diesel fuel in Schuylkill County failed even though Holden supported the efforts of the would-be developer, Jack Rich of Reading Anthracite.

"I am not against coal. Coal has helped this country, and Pennsylvania's 17th (District) has really been the backbone of much of the economy, the start of the American economy. I understand and respect that," Dow Ford said.

A Republican campaigning in the 17th District, Allen Griffith, founder of Biblical Family Ministries, said he prefers state regulation of coal ash instead of federal regulation.

"I'm fully in support of continuing development and use of coal. Our state has so much coal available to it," Griffith said.

Using American coal minimizes security issues associated with foreign oil, said Griffith, who also favors plants like one proposed for Schuylkill County that would convert coal into diesel fuel.

Josh First, a GOP candidate for the 17th District seat from Harrisburg, said he used to work for the EPA but lost faith in the agency's ability to regulate.

Regarding coal ash, he wants to know what substances the EPA finds in the ash that are hazardous and what risk they pose to humans and wildlife.

"If what we're going to do is regulate just based on anxieties, we're going to really deep six our economy," First said.

First said America should develop domestic energy sources such as coal, biomass and cellulosic ethanol with as much effort as the nation expended rebuilding Europe after World War II.

But he is suspicious about global warming compared with problems that seem clearer to him such as overfishing of the oceans, lack of clean water and loss of farmland.

"Those are real issues," First said. "I don't need to be told the sky is falling to believe conservation is important. I knew it was important long before climate change became a hot political issue."

Tom Ragan, staff writer, contributed to this story.

kjackson@standardspeaker.com, 570-455-3636

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 Post subject: Re: Candidates Say Coal Jobs Remain Important
PostPosted: Tue May 18, 2010 2:20 pm 
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Location: Chicago IL
[At least one country, Germany, the largest in Europe, found that switching to renewable energy sources creates jobs. More Germans now work in renewables than are employed in the coal and fossil fuel industries
but who wants to work on a dumb windmill anyways?

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PostPosted: Wed May 19, 2010 8:17 pm 
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