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Coal and Fossil Fuels: The Horse and Buggy of Our Time

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  • P. Neuman self only
    ... To: fuelcell-energy@yahoogroups.com Date: Sat, 01 May 2004 14:51:31 -0000 Coal and Fossil Fuels: The Horse and Buggy of Our Time by Jonathan Pearson,
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1 8:44 AM
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      To: fuelcell-energy@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Sat, 01 May 2004 14:51:31 -0000

      Coal and Fossil Fuels: The Horse and Buggy of Our Time
      by Jonathan Pearson,
      Chesapeake Climate Action Network

      "Progress inches along, stalled and delayed in part with
      your tax dollars, which are used to help prop up the fossil
      fuel industry and support a competitive advantage over
      modern and cleaner forms of energy."

      "The coal industry claims that because other states offer
      subsidies to their coal industries, Maryland has to do the
      same to remain competitive. While a parent might expect
      an 'everybody's doing it' argument from a child trying to
      justify cheating on a test or underage drinking, it is not a
      worthy argument for setting rationale, equitable tax policy."

      During a public hearing in Annapolis before the House Ways
      and Means Committee on repealing a multi-million dollar
      tax break for the utility and coal industries, one lawmaker who
      questioned concerns about current health and clean air
      impacts, sarcastically suggested that maybe we should
      return to "the horse and buggy days." Well, if the horse and
      buggy industry were as politically entrenched and connected
      at the beginning of the 20th century as big coal and utilities
      are today, who knows? Maybe our morning traffic report
      would be warning travelers to "avoid the inbound JFX
      because of a four stallion pileup!"

      That's not the case and we have progressed beyond earlier modes of
      transportation. That progress undoubtedly caused adjustments in
      regional economies, with shifting production and employment patterns.
      Yet we overcame these challenges so that today virtually everyone
      would agree there's no desire to turn the clock back on transportation.

      Which brings me back to energy. In these early days of the 21st
      century, it is coal and other fossil fuels which are becoming the
      "horse and buggy" of our time.

      Progress inches along however, stalled and delayed in part with your
      tax dollars, which are used to help prop up the fossil fuel industry
      and support a competitive advantage over modern and cleaner forms of
      energy. Much attention has been given to the federal government, where
      fossil fuel subsidies have been doled out for nearly a century, with
      billions of taxpayer dollars given away each year.

      However, as that recent hearing in Annapolis pointed out, subsidies
      come at the state level too.

      "The coal industry claims that because other states offer subsidies to
      their coal industries, Maryland has to do the same to remain
      competitive. While a parent might expect an 'everybody's doing it'
      argument from a child trying to justify cheating on a test or underage
      drinking, it is not a worthy argument for setting rationale, equitable
      tax policy."

      First is a provision in the Maryland Tax Code giving utilities a $3
      tax credit for every ton of Maryland-mined coal which is purchased.
      That may not sound like much, but it adds up quickly. This subsidy
      costs the state an estimated $15 Million each year in lost revenue.
      Factor in additional costs which impact you as a taxpayer or ratepayer
      (such as monitoring and cleaning up abandoned mines, rising rates of
      respiratory disease, and societal and infrastructure costs related to
      the growing threat of severe climate disruption), and the price tag
      jumps exponentially.

      The industry response is primarily two-fold. First, because other
      states offer similar subsidies to their coal industries, Maryland has
      to do the same to remain competitive. While a parent might expect an
      "everybody's doing it" argument from a child trying to justify
      cheating on a test or underage drinking, it is not a worthy argument
      for setting rationale, equitable tax policy. This is especially true
      when we're talking about a product that has the potential to cause harm.

      Had states taken such a "wait and follow" approach with tobacco, we
      would still be exposing our citizens to second-hand smoke in the
      workplace. To the contrary, states acting to curb the harmful effects
      of tobacco have more recently been engaged in a public health and
      public policy "race to the top." We can and we must do the same in
      regards to fossil fuels.

      See "Moloch Smiles Again" for what the CDC says about the hideous
      dangers of mercury pollution, produced by coal-fired electric
      generating plants.

      Second is the justifiable concern about losing jobs. The only problem:
      during the nearly twenty years this subsidy has been on the books,
      coal mining jobs continue to plummet. The Federal Energy Information
      Administration reports Maryland had dropped to 589 coal mining jobs in
      1990, two years after the tax break began. In 2002, jobs had declined
      further to 511. This decline is more significant, because employment
      figures for 2002 include industry office workers in the count, while
      the 1990 figure did not. Meanwhile, the Maryland Labor Department
      projects a further 20% decline in coal industry jobs during the next
      decade.

      These job losses can be recovered if we engage in the exciting
      potential of high paying manufacturing jobs in the renewable energy
      industry. A new report by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group
      says Maryland is well positioned to be a leader in the renewable
      energy industry, providing hundreds of long and short term jobs.

      Clean energy alternatives that don't pollute our skies and devastate
      our lands are surely a good vision for Maryland. In setting direction
      for our state, should lawmakers promote tax policies that move toward
      equity, or provide preferential treatment to an industry that has been
      operating since the horse and buggy? Should we move towards cleaner
      and safer forms of energy, or prop up polluters?

      Unfortunately, these questions remain with us, as repeal of the coal
      tax subsidy did not garner Ways and Means committee support. When it
      comes to equitable tax policy for fossil fuels, we are still waiting
      for a much needed breath of fresh air in Annapolis.

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      Jonathan Pearson is a Program Coordinator with the Chesapeake Climate
      Action Network in Takoma Park Maryland (chesapeakeclimate.org)

      http://baltimorechronicle.com/041604Coal.html
      j2997
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      Pat N


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