On August 26, 2010 at a town hall meeting at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell stated, in response to a question I posed on global warming, that the science of anthropogenic climate change was debatable. When I countered that there was not significant debate on this issue, he replied, “I’m telling you, there is.”
At that same town meeting I also spoke with Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources and Senior Advisor on Energy, Maureen Matsen. She stated that the science is not clear that climate change is man made, going on to say that, in any event, addressing energy issues was synonymous with addressing anthropogenic climate change. The problem with this reply is that it implies that as long as we get the amount of energy we need, it does not matter that the source of energy is climate harming fossil fuels. When I suggested to her that the United States has hundreds of years of coal and natural gas, and, therefore, there would be no reason to develop renewables except for concern with greenhouse gases, she chose not to respond.
I thereupon sent freedom of information requests to both Governor McDonnell and the Secretary of Natural Resources, asking each to produce any documents they had to support their positions that anthropogenic climate change was invalid science or debatable. The response was: “the position articulated by the Governor and the Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources at the Harrisonburg town hall were their personal points of view developed over years of public service. There are no specific records in our office that are responsive to your request.”
It is clear they have no real basis for denying manmade global warming. It is also clear that this administration is not burning any midnight oil parsing the science of climate change, one way or the other. Frankly put, they don’t care. So, what can we conclude will be the practical effect of this administration’s stance?
During the town hall meeting, the Governor explicitly stated that he was a supporter of coal, while at another point saying the carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) was not proven. CCS, the technology that seeks to remove CO2 from the product of coal combustion and store it deep underground, will increase the cost of electricity by as much as 6 cents per kilowatt-hour; that is, it might double the cost of electricity from coal fired power plants. Not all coal fired power plants can incorporate CCS. Most old plants cannot be economically retrofitted with CCS, and even new ones have to be of a certain type to take advantage of CCS. New plants with CCS might not be any more cost effective than renewables such as solar and wind, so that it might make not make sense to build new coal fired power plants of any type.
Coal will continue to be used in China and other countries around the world, so that it is crucial that CCS be developed to reduce CO2 emissions. Given the Governor’s stated goal or making Virginia a leader in energy development, you might think that he could become a leader in policies incentivizing clean coal technologies. However, in the narrow context of Virginia’s coal and power industries, CCS development might actually make these industrials less likely, not more likely, to survive. It is likely that Governor McDonnell sees his role as maintaining business as usual.
This post was submitted by Bishop Dansby.