All Aboard the Roller Coaster: Ala. Coal Week in Review

Guest Blog | August 5, 2014 | Climate Change, Coal, Energy Policy
News about Alabama’s coal – its alleged divine origins, televised misinformation from elected officials, pleas to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, closure and conversion of coal plants, and now, a lawsuit against EPA – has been flowing fast and furious over the past week, showing no signs of stopping. Here’s a quick play-by-play to get you caught up.

Monday, July 28: Public Service Commissioners claim God’s support for burning coal

Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh and de facto Commissioner-elect Chip Beeker hold a press conference to announce their opposition to EPA’s Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon pollution from power plants. It is held at the Alabama Coal Association headquarters. reports:

Beeker, a Republican who is running unopposed for a PSC seat, said coal was created in Alabama by God, and the federal government should not enact policy that runs counter to God’s plan. “Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?” he said.

Cavanaugh called on the people of the state to ask for God’s intervention. “I hope all the citizens of Alabama will be in prayer that the right thing will be done,” she said.

Meanwhile, my op-ed in support of the Clean Power Plan is published at

Tuesday, July 29: Hundreds testify, rally for Clean Power Plan

Activists from around the Southeast converge on Atlanta, headquarters of EPA’s Region 4, to comment on the rule proposing carbon pollution limits. You can read all about the day’s events, including hearing testimony, rally, and march here. Alabamians Joyce Lanning, on behalf of the national League of Women Voters, and Dr. David Reynolds, a Birmingham pediatrician (pictured at right), speak in favor of the limits. Not to be left out, Alabama’s PSC Commissioners and Attorney General testify against them.

Wednesday, July 30: God’s support for coal questioned

While a second day of EPA hearings proceed in Atlanta, the responses to Monday’s God-invoking press conference begin to roll in. brings national attention. The Montgomery Advertiser writes a chastising editorial, a group of faith leaders respond questioning the mixture of Church and State (and pointing to scripture calling for creation care), the Dothan Eagle calls out “PSC Pandering,” and’s John Archibald calls satirically on behalf of God’s lawyers for the commissioners to cease and desist using their client’s name.

Thursday, July 31: PSC President says false things on television

Starting the day off bright and early, Twinkle Cavanaugh debates SACE’s Executive Director, Dr. Stephen Smith, over the Clean Power Plan on WBRC Fox (channel 6) 7:00am news.

Dr. Smith writes a blog about the experience, correcting her misinformation: the Clean Power Plan actually will, according to the EPA, save billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Furthermore, Alabamians are not, as Cavanaugh says, doing all they can to save energy. 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. The Washington Post recently reported that Alabama is one of the most energy-expensive states.

Barry Steam Plant
Plant Barry. Photo (c) John L. Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper. Flight provided by

Friday, August 1: Alabama Power announces reduction in coal fleet due to different, older federal regulations

In a move we applaud, Alabama Power announces that it will close old, rarely-used generating units #6 and #7 at Plant Gorgas, northwest of Birmingham; convert Plant Greene County in central Alabama to burn natural gas; and convert three units at Plant Barry near Mobile to natural gas, using two of them only in times of extreme need. The coal phase-out is part of Alabama Power’s plan to meet Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) finalized in 2012 (not the carbon rules that were in the news earlier in the week). Anniston Star quotes SACE in an accurate, objective story highlighting the health dangers of mercury and addressing the need for transparent planning to help the public understand the cost benefits of phasing out old coal plants.

Monday, August 4: Alabama sues EPA over Clean Power Plan

In the last of unfortunate developments, Alabama joins eleven other states in a lawsuit attempting to prevent EPA from finalizing the Clean Power Plan, which it expects to do in June, 2015 after receiving comments on the plan this year. This legal step is one that will waste taxpayer money, fighting against a rule that could actually save Alabamians money if the state proactively moved to comply by using more energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Meanwhile, news from Mississippi reveals that Friday’s announced conversion from coal to gas at Plant Greene County may be related to a settlement between Mississippi Power and the Sierra Club. Mississippi Power has an ownership stake in the plant, and agreed to several clean energy moves in exchange for Sierra Club dropping its opposition to a new coal plant in Kemper County, MS that would capture some of its carbon emissions.

It’s a new week, and the saga continues. Stay tuned….


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