West Virginia College of Law News & Information

3 Nov

Stacy Minot

MORGANTOWN—One of the top issues in this election has been energy and how proposed regulations could affect the coal industry. An expert in environmental law weighed in with his opinion Monday at West Virginia University.
Professor Michael Gerrard, the director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Change Law, told a full audience at WVU’s Law School that he can understand the debate about regulations for coal, but not the debate about climate change itself.

“We may be falling behind in the manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines,” he said, “but we’re world leaders in the manufacture of artificial doubt about climate change.”

Gerrard told the audience that just a few years ago climate change was an accepted fact. Now, he says, politicians are spending more time debating the science and leaving it up to the administration and Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, and coal.

That leaves law firms like Jackson Kelly with little to work with for the coal companies they represent.

“There’s no question that coal is under attack from many quarters,” Jackson Kelly attorney David Flannery said.

He admitted some of his clients also doubt the cause of the recent warming trend. “But there are many of our clients who believe that Congress does need to act, if for no other reason than to eliminate uncertainty about the issue.”

Gerrard believes carbon capture and sequestration is the key to keeping coal viable, not ignoring the data about climate change.

WVU law professor and expert on legal issues in the coal industry Patrick McGinley agreed.

“What are the true costs of coal, what are the benefits of coal, both short and long-term?” McGinley said after the talk. “And in West Virginia, we’re not having that debate.”

The issue of regulation has become so politicized, especially in this mid-term election, that Gerrard doesn’t see any legislative action for at least the next two years.

“In a few years, depending on what happens with the politics and the public perceptions of the science, we may have climate legislation,” he said. “But not for a while.”

In addition to the regulations, there is the growth of the natural gas industry to challenge coal’s dominance in West Virginia, and the United States. Gerrard cited a 2010 study by MIT that projected the natural gas industry taking over coal’s share of the energy market if climate change policies are enacted,

“So it really is a jump ball,” Flannery said. “The energy industry is very, very much in a state of flux in West Virginia these days and we all have to pay close attention to it.”

Gerrard said the EPA should draft new climate change regulations in 2011, and the coal industry would have a few years to get ahead of compliance before the regulations take effect

WV Public Radio
By Ben Adducchio

WV Law School discussion focuses on climate change, coal

Download MP3

Is global warming real, or a myth? How will coal play a role in addressing climate change? Those are some questions investigated in a discussion Monday on the future of coal and climate change at the West Virginia University Law School.

Michael Gerrard gave the presentation on climate change and the future of coal.

Gerrard is currently the Andrew Sabin Professor of Political Practice at the Columbia Law School, in New York City.

He’s authored numerous books and journal articles on environmental law.

He says scientific evidence indicates climate change is real, and a problem the world must wisely address.

“There’s an overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening, that it is accelerating, and that it is mostly caused by human activities,” he said.

“However, there has been a massive public relations effort in the last year or two to try to deny that.”

Not all believe climate change is real, including many politicians who have campaigned against it this election.

Gerrard says the entire issue has become too partisan.

“We are now at a place in U.S. politics when many things become hyper partisan, and everyone loses,” he said.

“The country depends on some kind of consensus, and we’re far from that.”

Gerrard’s remarks at WVU focused on the future of the coal industry in the face of a changing climate.

Gerrard says coal is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

He says cap and trade, which has gained much attention and criticism as a method to limit greenhouse gas emissions, has been discussed for years.

But Gerrard says it won’t be adopted any time soon.

“Cap and trade and all other climate legislation died in the Senate, the likely result of the election is that it will stay dead for at least two years, and possibly a lot longer,” he said.

Gerrard says coal’s role for the future will include carbon capture and sequestration.

This process involves capturing carbon dioxide from plants that burn fossil fuel and storing it so it doesn’t enter the atmosphere.

“The development and commercialization of that technology is an essential element of the future of coal,” he said.

Gerrard says the greatest threat to coal’s future isn’t changes in regulations, or climate change.

It’s actually natural gas development.

“Recent discoveries over the last few years, advancing the technology of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, and discoveries of large deposits have greatly increased the supply and reduced the price of natural gas,” Gerrard said.

“It really is an enormous resource.”

West Virginia is facing an economic boon from gas drilling into the Marcellus shale formation located underneath much of the state.