Welcome to Tennessee Tuesday, where Governor Haslam Refuses to Meet with Mountain Advocates, TVA Stays the Same More than it Changes, and our New Energy Secretary is Totally into the World’s Premier Spallation Neutron Source!
Governor Bill Haslam is generally not aligned with the plentiful far-right fringe voices in the state of Tennessee. His business background and family ties have led him to deliberately cultivate an image as “cerebral” on policy, while being a competent manager rather than a fire-breathing gut-speaking revolutionary — although it’s a little humorous to imagine what might have been had he chosen the latter.
Opinion is fluid, of course, as to how successful he has been in living up to his preferred billing as Mr. Manager. Rumors that Haslam is interested in national office are swirling and he’s being called everything from “The GOP Star You’ve Never Heard of to an “amiable squish,” as people seem unsure what to make of this sometimes unsure governor.
Consider the issue of mountaintop removal, where he has been of two minds. First, as a candidate, Gov. Haslam opposed mountaintop removal. Buuuuuut, now he ignores the voices of affected citizens and he pays un-disclosed amounts to consultants who are also coal industry lobbyists, advocating to let Tennessee sell off our protected public lands to private coal companies. So, theres that.
It was perhaps little surprise then, when Haslam was out last week touting the fact that “ coal keeps businesses in Tennessee running!”
It reminded me of the soon-to-be-immortal words of former Presidential speechwriter Jon Lovett’s commencement speech at Pitzer College where he opined: “We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie.”
Is Haslam wrong? Well, no. But Haslam’s lofted platitudes towards what is left of the Tennessee coal industry are just true enough. We’ve been very kind, and very patient with the Governor, and will remain so for at least the next one, maybe two paragaphs.
“…about 17,000 people in Tennessee are employed because of the energy industry, including coal.
YES. And there are at least 150 million Americans are employed with jobs, including those playing professional baseball for the New York Yankees. Brilliant. We must go deeper!
“The reason I’m here today is as a member of the Southern States Energy Board to say we want to work with you and say that so many of our businesses could not operate without energy,” he said. After his brief remarks, he said that the Volunteer State – and the rest of the country – could not run without coal.
“Folks say we can do away with coal. The reality is now that’s not [an option] for our state, he said. People say why can’t we have a world where we don’t use coal but we’d be living in the cold and dark.”
He may be right, but somehow the domain “www.LetsLiveIntheColdandDark.com” is still available. Anyway, after Haslam refused a meeting with affected citizens, faith leaders, and conservation groups (including LEAF and Appalachian Voices) to talk about the protection of our mountains and our use of coal, we feel a little less sorry for him when he says silly things like this.
It is sad that Haslam continues to present a thoroughly incomplete and misleading picture of Tennessee’s relationship with coal, but there comes a point when it begins to seem more like willful ignorance. He has made the claim that “17,000 people in Tennessee are employed because of the energy industry,” showing that, unlike some elected officials, he is capable of using numbers. So, on this beautiful Tuesday, Governor, remember these three simple things:
1. TVA and Eastman (who Haslam bragged on in his speech) used exactly *zero* tons of coal from Tennessee in 2012. [see chart 1] Tennessee produced 0.13 percent of America’s coal last year, most of which gets put on the rails and sent to South Carolina and Georgia.
2. We are removing mountaintops in Tennessee in order to send this coal out of state. That is bad. I know you agree, because you said so, Governor. Roughly three quarters of our coal in Tennessee is produced by destructive surface mining methods like mountaintop removal. We joke, because we must, but this is a serious problem that threatens the health and well-being of our state and your constituents.
3. We’re not against coal, but we are against the forced ingestion of coal pollution. Your own agency (TDEC) says that nearly 60 miles of our streams are impaired from coal-mining, and our state boasts three of the nation’s top five worst cities to live in with asthma. So we know not all of that coal pollution is staying behind the permit line where it belongs. Tennessee, under your watch is destroying our greatest resources (our heritage, our communities, our mountains, and our health) in order to send some coal to Spartanburg.
So, we may not be able to teach Governor Haslam everything we know, but we will continue to tell his constituents this fact.
Chart of the Day
In keeping with the theme of simplicity, let’s remind our dear readers and Governor Haslam how many tons of Tennessee coal were used by Tennessee businesses last year:
Chart Two of the Day
Tennessee is well within range of being able to achieve two fantastic goals. First, we can become the first state to protect our mountains from mountaintop removal. Second, TVA can be the first large utility to wean itself off of mountaintop removal coal, as less than one percent of our coal comes from Appalachia.
Where is TVA’s coal coming from?
It’s been a busy and interesting time for the TVA after President Obama brought forward the idea of privatizing the 80 year old (happy birthday!) utility. The fact that southern Republicans, along with just about every single person in the TVA service area opposes the sale has been covered everywhere, including Fox News.
Perhaps the one person in Tennessee willing to consider selling TVA is our junior Senator Bob Corker. Corker’s criticisms come in the wake of TVA losing their biggest industrial customer, USEC Inc.
USEC, which has enriched uranium for TVA and other utilities since 1952, accounted for about 5 percent, or nearly $600 million, of TVA power sales last year. But demand for USEC’s enriched uranium has plunged as plans for new nuclear plants were scrapped and a global surplus of uranium developed
With a new boss, the face of TVA’s electricity portfolio is at a major crossroads. National attention is being put on the increasing economic difficulties faced by dinosaur coal plants, such as TVA’s Gallatin plant. TVA recently opted to spend a gazillion dollars to “update” the Gallatin plant by adding scrubbers, rather than to retire it and seek investments in energy efficiency. Here you can read CEO Bill Johnson’s decision memo on why TVA chose the path of keeping the plant open. It still baffles me how moving the waste from the sky to the ground makes more sense than eliminating coal pollution while creating jobs and saving energy through energy efficiency measures.
“The High Flux Isotope Reactor is this country’s primary reactor source and the Spallation Neutron Source is the premier world facility spallation source.”
What that means, I’m not entirely sure, but GOSH I hope he’s right.
Senator Lamar Alexander, an advocate of both nuclear energy and the TVA, has said there is “zero chance” of a TVA sale going through. Senator Alexander also recently outlined his “Four Grand Principles” for federal energy policy.
Senator Alexander’s Four Grand Principles?
1. Cheaper, not more expensive, energy
2. Clean, not just renewable, energy
3. Research and development, not government mandates
4. Free market, not government picking “winners and losers”
Senator Alexander has also done as much as anyone to highlight the fact that the TVA does much more than create power. For instance, TVA helps to upkeep miles and miles and miles of trails across the state, manage countless miles of shoreline, and other aquatic bodies such as the Ocoee River, which was just announced as the most visited whitewater river in the country! Big whitewater is big business.
The program, which is managed by Boyette Strategic Advisors, is designed to help communities evaluate existing sustainability programs and develop new ones that can be used to attract business investment.
Programs that can help companies save time and energy have become key issues for companies looking to invest in new facilities or expand existing ones.
Speaking of which, TVA’s industrial energy efficiency rebate program has been getting a lot of attention, and Logan Aluminum is the most recent industrial customer to collect a big fat energy effieicny rebate check for their work improve efficiency at their facilities.
The projects reduced the mill’s annual power consumption by more than 2 million kilowatt-hours, enough energy to supply about 150 homes in the Russellville district for a year.
The energy saving effort also earned the company a cash incentive of about $182,400 from TVA, which was formally announced during a recent Earth Day celebration at the plant.
“We take our commitment to the environment very seriously,” said Randy Schumaker, president of Logan Aluminum. “We want to impact individual behaviors both at home and at the plant to promote a culture of waste minimization and energy conservation.”
“Energy efficiency helps keep rates low, reduces costs associated with meeting consumer demand,conserves natural resources and produces zero emissions,” said Brent Powell, one of the managers of the TVA EnergyRight Solutions for Industry program…
Back at the fossil end of the spectrum, TVA sees a “light at the end of the tunnel” for the Kingston coal ash clean up. Of course, just because TVA is leaving Harriman via tunnel doesn’t mean that local residents won’t have to deal with the remnants of toxic coal ash for years to come. The U.S. House of Representatives isn’t making things much better as they plan to take up a bill later this week to pre-empt EPA attempts to actually regulate coal ash as the “toxic.” (ed. note: Coal ash is toxic and full of toxins. It will toxify you.)