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Bill Straub: Coal’s demise is no surprise, yet Mitch McConnell’s false prophecies still poisoning debate


Captain Nemo would have to pilot the Nautilus significantly lower than 20,000 leagues if he ever wanted to plumb the depths of the unholy cynicism constantly being provided by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

It appears the senator’s plan for dealing with the hazards associated with global climate change is very simple – burn more coal. Now to some that may sound like ordering the dam gates open to provide more water to battle a flood, or tossing gasoline on an inferno to extinguish it. But in the mind of our boy Mitch, it’s obvious that the answer to all the world’s ills is to further defile the environment here on Mother Earth by digging for more coal and then poisoning the atmosphere by burning it.

Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell

McConnell is promoting this ingenious strategy like a snake oil salesman pushing his product from the back of a wagon in the old West. Such charlatans were often met by a local citizenry that tarred-and-feathered them and then rode them out on a rail. These days, in the commonwealth, at least, such quacks are simply re-elected by substantial margins.

You may have heard President Obama was in Paris this week to urge representatives from nations around the globe to seriously address the very real and encroaching dangers of climate change by taking the steps necessary to reduce the pollution contributing to the looming disaster.

Obama told those attending the climate talks about his Clean Power Plan, which imposes strict carbon dioxide emissions limits on the nation’s electricity-generating plants – one of the primary causes of global climate change – and establishes new CO2 regulations on future facilities as they come on-line. The president urged world leaders to follow suit and agree to a plan that doesn’t condemn the next generation “to a planet that’s beyond its capacity to repair.’’

“Here, in Paris, we can show the world what is possible when we come together, united in common effort and by a common purpose,’’ he said.

Obama’s message was delivered with understandable urgency. The Earth has warmed by about 1.7 degrees F since 1880. Most climatologists – and don’t let deniers kid you, there’s near unanimity – maintain almost all of the warming since around 1950 comes as the result of greenhouse gases produced by humans. Should those emissions continue unabated, global warming could exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit.

And what does that mean? Little in the short run – rainfall may increase and coastal areas could face additional flooding. Longer term it likely will lead to drought, mass extinction of various animals and plants and a melting of the polar ice caps causing sea levels to rise and inundate cities along the shore.

There’s more but that’s enough for now.

Certainly not a pretty picture. And what has our man Mitch done for the cause? He’s undermined Obama’s efforts at every turn. And done it smugly, essentially telling the nations of the world to ignore the president of the United States when he urges them to join him in seriously addressing the issue.

You see, the Clean Power Plan primarily impacts coal-burning power plants, resulting in utility companies likely turning to a cleaner burning fuel – such as natural gas – to generate electricity rather than the dirty black stuff so close to McConnell’s heart.

And let’s be clear – Mitch loves him some coal.

“The power plan won’t even meaningfully affect global carbon emissions, and could actually increase emissions by offshoring American manufacturing to countries that lack our environmental standards,’’ McConnell crowed.

Mitch McConnell is doing these folks and the region no favors by serving as a false prophet, a Baal, urging them to follow him back to the Promised Land where the soil is jet black and the sun is forever hidden by a brown haze. What he’s doing to these people is downright deplorable, and he’s earning a twofer by extending a process that harms the planet we all share.

The senator’s assessment offers an amazing and unsurpassed airborne double somersault – one that would even draw a 10 from the Russian judge at the Summer Olympics. First, he demeans Obama’s plan because it would have a limited effect on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Then, when the president urges other nations to follow his lead and join the campaign, thus resulting in real progress, McConnell tells them to ignore him.

And, of course, why American manufacturers go to countries “that lack our environmental standards’’ if they agree to strengthen those standards, as requested by Obama?

McConnell’s rationale wouldn’t make sense in a lunatic asylum. So of course he doubled down by claiming the Clean Power Plan is anti-middle class and “threatens to punish the poor and could result in the elimination of as many as a quarter million U.S. jobs’’ all of which is so much bunkum. Will utility rates rise? Probably, but the costs would even out over a period as plants reject coal in favor of cheap and plentiful natural gas o other alternatives. And the jobs he is crying about are on their way out anyway. All you have to do is look at the job statistics for the nation’s coal fields.

It’s hard to remember a time when Mitch McConnell wasn’t a sellout to the nation’s coal interests, acting as if the fuel’s best days are ahead and all we have to do is wait out this president and emerge victorious from the “War on Coal.’’

McConnell, of course, never addresses why there exists an alleged War on Coal to begin with, never acknowledging that burning the stuff is sending the climate haywire, that individuals with asthma and similar lung infirmities are suffering the consequences on a daily basis, that it is soiling the national nest at a time when cleaner alternatives are available.

So, friends, what exactly is Mitch McConnell’s plan for addressing global climate change, other than to burn more coal and contribute to the approaching calamity? Well, it should come as no surprise that he doesn’t have one, going so far as to pull out the old reliable canard “I’m not a scientist’’ when pressed on the issue by The Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board last year.

He proceeded to dig himself a deeper hole, insisting that “for everybody who thinks (the planet is warming) I can find somebody who thinks it isn’t,’’ an outright fallacy he managed to deliver without a hint of embarrassment.

The demise of coal is troublesome for Kentucky, no one is going to debate that. But it’s been coming for a long time. Coal use has plunged 25 percent in the U.S. since 2005. Mines are closing, folks are losing the jobs held by their fathers and their father’s fathers before them.

It’s tough and it’s sad, but Mitch McConnell is doing these folks and the region no favors by serving as a false prophet, a Baal, urging them to follow him back to the Promised Land where the soil is jet black and the sun is forever hidden by a brown haze. What he’s doing to these people is downright deplorable, and he’s earning a twofer by extending a process that harms the planet we all share.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate who couldn’t tell Pikeville from Paducah, has stepped forward with a $30 billion plan to improve infrastructure in depressed coal regions, remediate abandoned mine properties, implement training and education programs and provide incentives for business investment in Appalachia, the Illinois Basin and the western coal areas, realizing that the mineral’s days are numbered.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell, who has represented Kentucky in Washington since 1985, sits on the sidelines. And he calls that leadership.

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Washington correspondent Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. He currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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