Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is one of the most vocal climate alarmists in Congress. Each week, he delivers a “Time to Wake Up” speech on the Senate floor that rails against man-made global warming. And he repeatedly urges America to “move away from fossil fuels and transition to clean, renewable energy.”
Ironically, his Rhode Island constituents are benefiting from these same fossil fuels—something Whitehouse has been quick to celebrate of late on Facebook when he talks about the shipbuilding and manufacturing projects that are bringing good-paying jobs to Rhode Island. It appears, however, that Whitehouse either doesn’t know or doesn’t understand why fossil fuels are driving this same economic growth.
On the subject of “climate change,” Whitehouse views carbon dioxide as “pollution” and wants to legislate fossil fuels out of existence. He’s a strong supporter of President Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” which aims to rapidly shut down coal-fired power in America. If not for the Supreme Court placing a stay on the president’s plan, Rhode Island might already be feeling the economic impact of a plan that will sap much of America’s industrial strength.
On the subject of coal-fired power, it’s noteworthy that the United States has long since shifted to clean coal, which means the nation’s coal-fired power plants are able to scrub emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury, acid gasses, and particulate matter. The result is safe, affordable, reliable power generation for much of the country’s schools, hospitals, elevators, street lights, factories, water treatment systems, and sewage plants.
And it’s this hefty electric power that drives America’s industrial states. Indiana, for example, which is home to a sizable portion of American manufacturing, relies on coal for 87 percent of its power. Ohio, another industrial heavyweight, draws 70 percent of its electricity from coal. In Michigan, it’s 55 percent. In Wisconsin, it’s 63 percent. In Iowa, it’s 58 percent. And so on.
The problem for Whitehouse is that these modern-day coal plants still send steam and carbon dioxide up the smokestack, which means they’re a dire threat—and should be shut down as quickly as President Obama’s Clean Power Plan can mandate. By calling for the dismantling of coal-fired plants and the elimination of fossil fuel power, however, Whitehouse is advocating the end of manufacturing self-sufficiency.
Despite this obvious contradiction, Senator Whitehouse repeatedly touts the latest industrial accomplishments of his home state Rhode Island. A quick study of his Facebook page reveals:
- A July 18 post celebrating the “massive transport ship, the Iris Leader,” which can now travel through the newly expanded Panama Canal and help to grow Rhode Island’s shipping industry.
- A July 18 post about the $200 million expansion of Alexion Pharmaceuticals’ Smithfield facility.
- A July 11 post describing how the senator “helped break ground on the extension of TF Green Airport’s main runway to allow for longer flights – an important step forward for attracting businesses to Rhode Island and growing our economy.”
- A June 30 post announcing the massive wind turbine blades arriving from Denmark to help Rhode Island “lead the way in clean energy as we make progress on our nation’s first offshore wind farm!”
It’s no surprise Sen. Whitehouse wants to publicize these Rhode Island endeavors. Elected officials often build their careers on the strength of such local accomplishments—the good deeds they undertake on behalf of their constituents.
But we need to be clear about something: Every one of these efforts is made possible by the plentiful use of fossil fuels. That massive ship traveling through the Panama Canal will burn diesel. The new pharmaceutical factory and the new airport runway will require gasoline-powered tractors and construction equipment.
And most important, each of these projects will require plenty of steel—no matter if it’s an oceangoing vessel, a forklift, a jet plane, or a wind-turbine blade. Steel can’t be constructed without coal. That’s because coal powers the high-temperature ovens that produce molten metal. And steel also needs a liberal dose of metallurgical coal to give it tensile strength.
So here’s the problem for Sen. Whitehouse: to wholeheartedly champion these projects, he needs to be downright unaware of the evident fossil fuel connections. If not, then the senator is contradicting his climate rhetoric. And so, he’s either blissfully ignorant of the faulty logic, or happily engaging in hypocrisy. Either way, it’s a problem.
This brings us back to the overall flaw in the senator’s call for more “renewable” energy. Wind and solar are low-yield, intermittent forms of electrical generation. They’re unreliable because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. They also can’t ramp up to the heavy needs of industry.
Put simply, you can’t build a wind farm with the electricity generated by a wind farm. You need something that can do the heavy lifting. And that means coal, natural gas, oil, or nuclear power.
Senator Whitehouse wants to have it both ways—a nation running on renewables that can still manufacture goods. But Whitehouse should study the hard lessons learned by Europe after its impulsive leap into the deep end of the green energy pool. The cost of household electricity in Germany, for example, has now climbed to almost three times the U.S. price. This reckless foray into unpredictable renewable energy was also a contributing factor in the Brexit vote.
If Senator Whitehouse wants to keep calling for an end to coal and fossil fuel power, and the expensive transition to wind and solar, then he must stop praising the industrial successes of his home state. After all, one can’t simultaneously sit at both ends of the table.
Essentially, the senator is working to abolish an entire industry while celebrating its numerous accomplishments. Doing so smacks of pure and simple pandering. And it puts the senator in the same ethical position that he alleges in his weekly speeches about various fossil fuel “special interests.” Americans deserve better than such hackneyed politics.
Steven Capozzola has worked on manufacturing issues for the past decade, and writes extensively on energy issues.