Why have coal-mining communities continued to white-knuckle their interests in coal long after it was clear the industry was well into decline and would never come back? How were politicians able to misdirect blame toward a “War on Coal” narrative rather than economic factors?
In this episode, Jamie Van Nostrand, a longtime lawyer who has worked both for utility regulators and utility companies, sheds light on these questions. In addition to his current role as a regulator, Jamie has served as a professor of utility law and regulation in several states, including West Virginia, the poster child of coal-industry denial about the energy transition. In Jamie’s 2022 book, The Coal Trap: How West Virginia Was Left Behind in the Clean Energy Revolution, he explains how the politics of West Virginia, and the actions of coal industry proponents and lobbyists, contributed to a culture of denial about the need for a clean energy transition. This denial has come at a great cost to West Virginians, who have missed out on energy transition during a ‘lost decade’ and are now facing unnecessarily high grid power costs for many years ahead. Jamie shares his insights in this episode and explains how the situation in West Virginia can serve as a cautionary tale for other communities facing similar challenges. It’s a fascinating book, and Jamie’s explanations in this extra-long episode are illuminating.
The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) regularly updates its estimates for how much oil and gas might be recovered in the future, and at what rate. With the application of new technology from year to year, those estimates generally keep going up. But it’s important to remember that they are just estimates — and the devil is always in the details.
Our guest in this episode is a career geoscientist who has diligently delved into those devilish details. In his new reports, he finds that EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016 seems to significantly overstate how much oil and gas might be recovered using fracking technology, with estimates for shale gas and tight oil production that exceed the estimates for how much of those resources are even technically recoverable. In this extended and technically detailed interview, we discuss EIA’s most recent forecasts and try to understand what’s realistic for future US hydrocarbon production.
China is always a bit of an enigma to the West: It is the world’s largest user of coal and the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide; the world’s largest car market; it has the world’s largest shale gas resources; and it has been building entire “ghost cities” with no one living in them. But it is also the world leader in energy transition, with more wind and solar deployment than any other nation; it has a massive grid construction program and the world’s largest and most rapid high-speed rail construction program; and before long, it will probably have the world’s largest market for electric vehicles.
To understand the trajectory of the world’s energy transition effort, we have to understand what’s happening in China. But its official data are unreliable, and official statements can vary wildly from the facts on the ground. That’s why in this episode we talk with James West, a senior digital editor for Mother Jones and former senior producer for Climate Desk, who has traveled to China to get those stories firsthand.