Climate Corner: With ‘friends’ like these…

Sep 23, 2023

Eric Engle

As a Mon Power ratepayer, I have to say I’m really tired of being on the hook for the refusal of the powers that be in West Virginia to move on from coal energy. To quote from a piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail by energy and environment reporter Mike Tony, “Mon Power and Potomac Edison already have a request pending before West Virginia utility regulators for a $207.4 million, 13% increase in customers’ base rate.”

Tony continues, “That’s the rate that accounts for all utility service expenses, including operating and maintenance costs, taxes and depreciation. Now the FirstEnergy utilities have asked the Public Service Commission for a roughly $167.5 million increase in customers’ rate to cover fuel costs effective Jan. 1, 2024. The PSC approved a $91.8 million rate increase to cover Mon Power and Potomac Edison fuel costs in December [2022]. The rate hike followed a $94 million rate hike the PSC approved for the utilities in May 2022, also for fuel costs. That followed a $19.5 million fuel cost rate increase approved in December 2021.”

Did you hear that cash register sound over and over again in your head as you read that last paragraph? You can thank West Virginia’s coal baron Governor, Jim Justice, his coal industry flunkies on the West Virginia “Public Service” Commission and a Republican supermajority in the state legislature. You can also thank the West Virginia Coal Association and the “Friends of Coal” campaign for the cultural manipulation tactics they’ve deployed to protect their air and water polluting, soil degrading, climate destabilizing and public health threatening status quo.

It’s not just West Virginia that’s engaged in total fossil fuels nonsense, though. A recent report from the organization Oil Change International shows that the U.S. accounts for more than a third of the planned oil and gas expansion globally by 2050. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), describes fossil fuels expansion efforts as “very unhealthy and unwise economic risks.” Birol was quoted in The Guardian newspaper as saying, “New large-scale fossil fuel projects not only carry major climate risks, but also business and financial risks for the companies and their investors.”

The IEA was created in 1974 to help coordinate a collective response to major disruptions in the supply of oil, according to its website. It’s not exactly a bastion of climate and environmental concern. Investors and fiduciaries would do well to heed the warning of an agency like the IEA that helps coordinate energy policy all over the world and has for almost 50 years. Just don’t tell that to State Treasurer and District 02 congressional candidate, Riley Moore (R-WV), or Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate, Patrick Morrisey (R-WV).

Moore and Morrisey have been on a years-long crusade against Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing — investment strategy that accounts for things like climate change and its impacts on finance. They call it “woke capitalism.” I guess now it’s “woke,” used derogatorily of course, to consider how the destabilization of life-supporting systems on our only home in the cosmos might impact a person’s or entity’s portfolio.

That makes about as much sense as the letter to the editor in this paper last week suggesting that the wildfires in Maui had nothing to do with climate change. Hawaii is an average two degrees warmer than in 1950 across its surface area. Hot, dry conditions and hurricane winds from a category 4 storm fueled by almost unfathomable ocean heat created the perfect conditions for a devastating wildfire. Anthropogenic (human-caused) global heating, aka climate change, was most certainly a detectable culprit in all of the above.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that threating the habitability of a planet of which we are an intimate part is a costly endeavor, not just in terms of physical harm and lives lost, but to the bottom lines of energy ratepayers, investors and the labor force. According to a recent analysis by the Stockholm Resilience Center, we have now transgressed 6 of 9 planetary boundaries: Biochemical flows (i.e. phosphorous and nitrogen accumulating in streams); freshwater change/use; land-system change; biosphere integrity; climate change (i.e. C02 and equivalent greenhouse gas accumulation and radiative forcing); and novel entities (i.e. plastics pollution). The remaining three boundaries (stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading and ocean acidification) we perform some better on, though we’re close to exceeding the acidification boundary as well. These transgressions are costly.

I don’t want astronomical power bills. I don’t want stranded assets for retirement investments. I want West Virginia to remain an energy state–cleaner, safer, healthier, more sustainable, more efficient and more affordable green energy. I encourage you to reflect on what you really want and not just on bumper sticker and license plate logic like being a “friend of coal,” whatever that means.


Eric Engle is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.