Front Porch Blog

To keep coal around, which jobs do we lose?

The Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY recently published an article that raises important questions about job loss due to rising energy prices. Read for you self. “Coal’s pitfalls and promises: One change seems certain in tackling warming: Electric rates will rise”

“I need a job just like everybody else,” said George Christian, 48, who works in Alcan’s Sebree smelter, which consumes 350 megawatts of electricity — enough to power more than 100,000 homes, in the process of producing aluminum in quarter-mile-long rows of 1,800-degree cells.

“I’m happy here,” Christian said. “Hopefully I can work my days out here until I retire.”

But plant managers are nervous about what global warming might mean. The plant already has an electricity bill of $7 million a month, or 35 percent of the plant’s costs, and if efforts to slow global warming result in higher electricity rates, there are fears it could force the business abroad.

“Politics can change anything,” said Olaf Wigstol, plant manager.

“Hopefully people will work it out and we can live with the results.”

RELATED VIDEO: Alcan aluminum smelter in Sebree, Western Kentucky

There’s an interesting dichotomy in KY. In the west, the hardworking men and women of Alcan’s Sebree smelting facility risk job loss with an increase in price of electricity produced from coal.

Pressures from Mr. Wigstol and his co-workers to keep jobs in W. KY puts pressure on coal companies to cut costs wherever possible: enter MTR.

Let me get this straight: In order to save manufacturing jobs in W. KY, we have to support the destruction of the mountains, water supply, and economic future of the people of E. KY!?!?! NOT ACCEPTABLE!

I really appreciate Mr. Christian’s perspective and Mr. Wigstol’s attitude. And I hope they understand that we all owe it to the people of E. KY to reduce our dependency on MTR derived coal.

For good measure, a few comments from the KY coal industry’s PR arm, the Kentucky Coal Association:

While California has taken the lead, with a cap on greenhouse gases, the president of the politically connected Kentucky Coal Association, Bill Caylor, predicts a much less vigorous response to global-warming threats in Kentucky because of “our dominance in fossil fuels.”

Caylor, who also has questioned whether global warming will cause serious consequences, said the real problem will come if the United States forces greenhouse gas reductions and some other countries don’t, sending jobs to nations with cheaper energy and fewer rules.

“We could be doing all of this while China and India are just thumbing their noses at us,” he said.

Bill, I actually agree with you that if we continue to rely on coal on such a large scale, regulating CO2 emissions in the US might force jobs overseas. Side note:

International Energy Agency Warns of Effects of Rise in Coal Consumption

Developing countries in Asia will account for over 85pc of the growth in coal use over the next 25 years, the IEA predicts. As a result, China will by 2010 be belching out more greenhouse gases than the US.

But Bill, what if we didn’t rely as much on coal anymore? What if E and W KY were major sources of renewable energy technology and equipment? Carl Pope of the Sierra Club summarizes that well during his audio interview with the Courier-Journal.

Hat tip to Vivian Stockman of OVEC, and Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch for letting me know about these articles.

P.S. – It looks like Barbara Boxer, US Senator from California, is going to be the head of the Committee on Environment and Public Works during the 110th Congress. One of her main priorities is to support control of US CO2 emissions!





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