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This week, FirstEnergy announced the closing of three coal-fired power plants because of the EPA’s new tougher air pollution standards. The power stations at Albright in Preston County, Rivesville in Marion County and Willow Island in Pleasants County are shutting down, putting over 100 people out of work.

FirstEnergy said it would cost too much to update these plants with the pollution control equipment necessary to meet EPA’s rules. These are old facilities and their days were numbered, but the EPA’s new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) hastened their demise.

The closings are a tough blow for those communities; jobs are lost and tax revenue from the utilities will dry up.

“This is going to take a pretty big chunk out of the operating budget of the town,” said Rivesville Mayor Jim Hershman, who worked at the power plant for 25 years.

The Sierra Club is positively euphoric. The environmental organization’s “Beyond Coal” campaign is geared toward shutting down all coal-fired power plants.

“The retirements represent a major improvement in the lives of local residents, who have been exposed to pollution from these plants for decades,” read a statement from the Sierra Club.

I suspect the Sierra Club might have trouble getting laid off workers or the leaders of a community that will have trouble paying the bills for street lights to join them in the victory dance.

Meanwhile, Morgantown City Council this week unanimously passed a resolution in support of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Council was urged by Jim Kotcon to pass the resolution. Kotcon is a WVU plant pathology professor, a member of the local Sierra Club and the Morgantown Green Team, which advises city council on environmental issues.

The council vote, Kotcon said, “is a symbolic affirmation of Morgantown’s leadership on clean air quality and the whole climate change issue.”

So Jackson, who has done more than any one individual in recent history to undermine fossil fuel production in this country, now has the town fathers in the middle of coal and gas country on her side. And the City of Morgantown is doing its best United Nations imitation.

Conveniently missing from the council’s puffery of the EPA was any mention of the fact that Morgantown received about $160,000 in coal severance tax money in the last year. If Morgantown really wants to make a statement, it should send back the money that comes from a mineral that, according to the Sierra Club, “makes you sick.”

Morgantown Mayor Jim Manilla says now that neither he nor several other council members knew exactly what they were voting on. “We’re to blame for this,” Manilla said. “It slipped by us. I apologize.”

Manilla has called a special meeting for Monday to try to rescind the resolution. It’s going to be a close vote. It’s quite possible that Morgantown will stand by its environmental grandiosity.

The inevitable energy transition that’s taking place in this country is going to be a long, drawn out affair. American Electric Power President and CEO Nick Atkins said earlier this week “We’ll still need coal” for the foreseeable future. “If someone is trying to eliminate that, it’s just not going to happen.”

Maybe the adversaries of fossil fuels actually know that, which is why they are reduced to relishing their small victories and embellishing their meaningless symbolism.


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