Letter to the Editor: Stop Printing Talking Points

by William Yeatman on February 9, 2012

in Blog

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Below is a letter I sent yesterday to ClimateWire, an energy policy trade publication that I usually enjoy, about this article. Normally, ClimateWire requires a subscription, but the article was picked up this morning by RealClearEnergy.

Here’s the back story: In late January, Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy Corp. announced that it was closing six coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The company blamed the closings on environmental regulations, in particular the Mercury and Air Toxics rule. The majority party in the House of Representatives has since used the plant closures as evidence of the economic harm inflicted by EPA’s regulatory war on conventional energy production. Talking points beget response talking points: such is the dialectic of political communication. Accordingly, the minority party claims that the plant closures caused by a number of factors, in addition to environmental regulations. To my eyes, yesterday’s ClimateWire story reported the House minority party’s talking points. Its thesis is that “energy experts” believe that a number of factors caused the closings; ergo, the House majority party is telling half-truths when it claims that FirstEnergy Corp.’s decision to shutter six power plants is evidence of EPA’s regulatory overreach. In the letter below, I question whether the article’s thesis is misguided.

Greetings Mr. Behr,

Your article [“When Old Coal Plants Die, Is It a Bust or Blessing for Ohio”] this morning opens:

“Last month, when FirstEnergy Corp. decided to close six coal-fired power plants in its home state of Ohio and two other states, the moves became instant political ammunition for Republicans, who blamed the Obama administration’s environmental regulations for the closures.”

This is true, but it’s important to note that politicians blamed environmental regulations for the closures because the company blamed environmental regulations. Here’s the title and first paragraph of FirstEnergy Corp.’s press release announcing the closures:

FirstEnergy, Citing Impact of Environmental Regulations, Will Retire Six Coal-Fired Power Plants

Plants Located in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland

AKRON, Ohio, Jan. 26, 2012 — FirstEnergy Corp. (NYSE: FE) announced today that its generation subsidiaries will retire six older coal-fired power plants located in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland by September 1, 2012. The decision to close the plants is based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were recently finalized, and other environmental regulations. (press release link)

However, you bury this detail in the story’s 12th paragraph:

“FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin said the EPA requirements were the critical factor in the decision to close the plants. “It’s definitely related to the new rules. … Each of the units has to have something done to it. We couldn’t justify that cost,” he said.

The article’s thesis is that politicians are failing to tell the whole story. Shouldn’t the article be about FirstEnergy Corp. getting it wrong (if it’s true that the company issued a misleading press release)?


William Yeatman

Yesterday, FirstEnergy Corp. announced that it was closing three more coal fired power plants in West Virginia. Again, the company attributed the closings to environmental regulations, in particular the Mercury and Air Toxics rule.

nofreewind February 10, 2012 at 8:44 pm

So we are going to retire 2600 MW of coal plants and do what to replace that energy? How about we simply put up 7,000 1.5 MW wind turbines that will have an average output of 25%? Each one of those 7,000 turbines need about 75 acres of space. That is about 500,000 acres which converts to 780 square miles of land. Sure, this makes good sense. Oh, I forgot one small detail. We will still need the 2600 MW of coal or nat gas or nuclear, because because much of the time the wind is either not blowing or hardly blowing. And the wind blows more at night, when we don’t even need it. It blows less when we need it during those hot, still summer days or during a cold, cold front in the winter. Never mind about the details.

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