Ala. PSC’s Twinkle “Queen of Coal” Cavanaugh intentionally misleads public on television interview

Stephen Smith | July 31, 2014 | Climate Change, Coal, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Utilities

There is a famous saying by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” This morning, Twinkle Cavanaugh, chair of the Alabama Public Service Commission, yet again displayed her blatant disregard for facts, and for Alabamian citizens, in a TV appearance on MyFox Alabama (WBRC-TV Channel 6). Debating opposite myself, Cavanaugh denied, falsely, that there are health benefits to cutting air pollution under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon emissions from power plants:

“If I thought this had a health benefit, I would be looking at it with a different eye.  But even the Obama administration’s own EPA has said there are no direct health benefits” – Alabama PSC Chair Twinkle Cavanaugh

Although the TV network removed the original clip online, you can now watch the complete 6-minute segment here via our video library.

Her statement leads me to believe that she has neglected to actually read the proposed rule before going on television to talk about it. If she read the rule, she would find that “Obama’s EPA” specifically estimates that these new pollution limits would prevent 150,000 asthma attacks and 6,600 deaths annually by 2030, by reducing emissions that contribute to soot and smog that make people sick. For those who want more detail click here.

Cavanaugh’s dismissal of the health benefits of this proposed rule is an affront to the citizens of Alabama who continue to struggle daily with poor air quality. Many, if not all, of us are parents, neighbors, or friends of a sufferer of asthma. As we pointed out in a recent opinion-editorial on, we’ll have healthier people, and a healthier economy if we burn less coal and use more clean energy.

Jefferson County’s air is so polluted that any new industry moving into the city may take the air quality beyond tolerable limits. Much of that pollution comes from the three nearby coal plants.  Even marginally reducing the use of those coal plants to meet the proposed standards would clean up the air and protect the health of our families and communities.

Additionally, SACE staffer Jennifer Rennicks, whose daughter suffers from asthma, noted in her opinion-editorial in Citizen-Times:

Direct and indirect costs from coping with asthma alone total more than $18 billion annually – and other diseases, such as heart and lung disease, are also made worse due to pollution from our power sector. A recent Harvard Medical School study found that coal pollution costs the United States taxpayers between $175 and $523 billion every year in health and environmental impacts, which means that coal power is actually three times more expensive than it appears on our power bills.

Another whopper the “Queen of Coal” let fly this morning was that “most families in Alabama are doing all they can to conserve” in response to my pointing to energy efficiency as a cost saving compliance strategy. The fact is that Alabama ranks 39th in the country on energy efficiency according to the ACEEE and in part due to the weak energy efficiency programs has some of highest electric bills in the country, second only to Hawaii. In most states, the PSC, which Cavanuaugh chairs, helps ensure that customers have energy efficiency programs that help lower their bills. Clearly, under Cavanaugh’s lack of leadership, no such relief is available to Alabama consumers – but of course Alabama Power sells more electricity and burns more coal.

Unfortunately, today’s purposeful attempt to misinform Alabamians is only the latest – exposing Cavanaugh’s willingness to govern and set policies based on speculation, demonization, and misinformation.

Earlier this week she publicly encouraged Alabamians to pray the EPA away – displaying her lack of impartiality by holding the press conference at the offices of the Alabama Coal Association. (’s John Archibald responded satirically on behalf of God’s lawyers, and a group of faith leaders wrote her an open letter citing her inappropriate argument and pointing to scriptural admonishments to care for creation.)

A year ago, she made national news blurring the line between the separation of church and state by inviting a conservative Baptist to open a Public Service Commission meeting about utility rates, and standing by him after his prayer ranged over such non-utility-related territory as asking forgiveness for gay marriage, taking prayer out of public schools, and allowing abortion.

And six months earlier, she took a stand against transparency, arguing that certain voices should not be heard at all. “I want to exclude the environmentalists from taking part in the process” of reviewing rates, she said.

This kind of representation, based on misinformation, bias, and villainization of those who disagree is a disservice to Alabamians and ought not be tolerated by those who elected her. Our eventual hope is for a transparent process and responsible conversation about producing energy in a safe, responsible manner that protects both the health and wallets of Alabamian families. I have little confidence that as long as the Queen of Coal rules the Alabama PSC will we see the policies and protections that could actually help Alabama’s working families.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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