And yet still more on divestment

I continue to receive almost weekly requests from reporters who are asking for comment on California passing a law to force their pension plans to divest from coal. To help speed the process, I prepared a statement on the issue and have reprinted it here for Coalblog readers.

— Jason


Regarding the issue of California passing SB 185, a law which requires state pension plans (CalPERS and CalSTRS) to divest from their coal holdings.

First off, with noted environmentally-focused investors like George Soros and Tom Clarke investing in coal stocks and coal companies it seems that the state of California may actually be behind the trends on this issue. 

Secondly, I think the best way to view this issue not to focus on any organization that is considering divesting. It is actually better to consider how big of a setback divestment movements could cause for the people impacted by the changes being encouraged by divestment.

Californians already pay a 35%+ premium for electricity when compared with the rest of the nation. In fact, California’s residential electricity rates went from 13.5 cents / KWh in 2012, to 17.2 cents in 2015. Not surprisingly, those changes hit the poor and elderly the hardest as reports from the National Energy Assistance Directors Association showed that, due to increasing energy costs in 2013, 30% of families enrolled in the LIHEAP plan (liheap.org) decided to go without food for at least one day; 41% of those families went without medical or dental care; 33% decided to not fill prescriptions (or took less than the prescribed dose); 22% were simply unable to pay their energy bill due to medical expenses. As some of California’s elected officials, universities, and other state controlled pension funds continue to prioritize ideology over economic and social concerns, Californians will continue to pay the price (literally).

Furthermore, there is no need to mistakenly prioritize environmental concerns by divesting in such an ideologically constrained manner as the U.S. coal industry will have invested over $136 billion in emissions reductions technologies by the end of this year. Those investments have already resulted in a reduction in emissions of criteria pollutants (NOx, SOx, and PM10) by almost 90% per MWh of electricity produced.[i] Additionally, off-the-shelf technologies are able to reduce mercury emissions from coal plants by over 90% today. Similar improvements would be hailed as an environmental success story in any other industry, but, for no clear reason, are ignored when it comes to coal-fueled energy. Furthermore, newer technologies such as supercritical boilers, gasification, and carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS), are addressing the efficiency and CO2 challenge as well. In fact, a new advanced coal-fueled plant will reduce CO2 emissions equivalent to removing more than 210,000 cars from the road each year.[ii]

When media outlets ask for our reaction to the divestment movement, we encourage others to avoid making the same mistake as those elected officials who voted for SB 185. We work to educate the public about the value of coal-fueled electricity through our connections with the media and other energy-focused groups. We also advocate for coal via our publications (like American Coal magazine – http://iurl.no/7f585), our events and webcasts, through public comment on regulatory issues (http://iurl.no/b962w), etc.

As most articles on the issue will only be able to include a few quick points and possibly a single quote, I won’t extend my comments on the issue too much further, but please note that I have not discussed how the divestment movement is a self-defeating contradiction, where those advocating for divestment from coal stocks typically rely heavily on the very products and energy resources they demand others cease using – they rail against fossil fuels on their fossil fuel-powered iPads, in rooms cooled and lit with fossil fuel based electricity, while drinking coffee shipped to the U.S. in fossil fuel power ships, trucks, and trains.

I also did not discuss the fact that the divestment movement actively works to shut down an industry that provides the nation with more than 800,000 jobs or that, or that funds the pensions and retirement plans of hundreds of thousands of other retirees.

I have not discussed how the rest of the world is actively moving toward coal, meaning that unilateral divestment from coal in America will impose massive costs on this nation while doing absolutely nothing to address climate concerns. Even EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy openly admits that everything the current administration is doing to shut down coal plants in the United States will have no discernible effect on climate change, and the divestment movement is no different in this regard. Selling a few stocks that will be immediately purchased by investors like George Soros and Tom Clarke will not make any difference to climate change or the emissions of greenhouse gases.

I also have not discussed the fact that coal is one of the few reliable, secure, affordable, domestic energy resources that provides the baseload energy on which every member of society relies. 

We all are demanding more and more energy. So the best way to meet those demands and to improve on human health and wellbeing is to accelerate the use of high-efficiency, low emission clean coal technologies like supercritical power plants, coal gasification, and coal-to-liquids. I would be happy to discuss this issue with you further if you have time.

[i] U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) 2014 Annual Energy Outlook

[ii] Sources: EPA CO2 emissions for passenger vehicles per year (http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/refs.html). Cornerstone Magazine, “Setting the Benchmark: The World’s Most Efficient Coal-Fired Power Plants” (http://cornerstonemag.net/setting-the-benchmark-the-worlds-most-efficient-coal-fired-power-plants/)

16. October 2015 by Jason Hayes
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