Mitch McConnell Claims Influence in Coal Decision That Was Already Made

Senator Mitch McConnell is touting his role in a recent decision to keep burning coal at a Western Kentucky power plant, even though less coal will be burned—and the decision to keep burning the remainder was made months ago.

The Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors voted Thursday to convert two of the three coal-burning units at its Paradise Fossil Plant in Muhlenberg County to natural gas. The third unit will remain coal-fired.

Upon the vote, McConnell released a statement headlined “Following Meeting with McConnell, TVA Announces It Will Keep the Paradise Fossil Plant Open” with the subheading “McConnell informed today by TVA that one of the three units at the facility will continue burning coal.”

But the latter decision was already made, and it was public months ago (it’s in this document from August and I mentioned last month).

“Let’s just say unit 3 [the coal burning unit] was never in danger of closing,” says a TVA spokesman.

As for the former claim, McConnell did meet with TVA president Bill Johnson last month, but he encouraged Johnson to keep burning coal at the current capacity.

A McConnell spokesman says the senator had two priorities with the meeting, one was to keep burning coal at the current capacity, the other was to keep the plant open.

So while it’s true the plant will stay open, the TVA voted against McConnell’s first priority. A request for clarification on McConnell’s statement was not returned Thursday afternoon. (see below)

Power plants across the nation are moving away from coal, in part because stricter pollution standards for mercury and other toxic air pollution go into effect in 2016 (McConnell has been a major critic of these regulations). But economic factors also play a significant role in the switch; natural gas is inexpensive and abundant, while coal is becoming more expensive to mine.

Paradise burned 6 million tons of coal last year; 83 percent of that coal was from Western Kentucky.

For what it’s worth, the Sierra Club also released a statement praising the TVA’s decision, but for different reasons than McConnell. 

Update: A McConnell spokesman says “the Senator was glad to weigh in with TVA President Johnson to represent the Kentucky coal industry, and was told that the meeting played a role in affirming TVA’s decision to keep unit 3 on coal.” But again, the decision to keep unit 3 on coal came before the meeting. 

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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