Is it Hypocrisy or Ignorance that Drives Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse?

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., presides over a subcommittee hearing Dec. 9, 2014.
Lauren Victoria Burke, Associated Press

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.”

Whitehouse’s Rhode Island constituents are currently benefiting from these same fossil fuels. In recent Facebook posts, Whitehouse has been quick to celebrate the shipping, construction, and manufacturing projects that are now bringing good-paying jobs to Rhode Island. It appears, however, that Whitehouse either doesn’t recognize, or willfully disregards, the obvious linkage between fossil fuels and these industrial achievements.

Whitehouse has been adamant that carbon dioxide is “pollution.” It’s the reason he wants to legislate fossil fuels out of existence. As such, he’s a strong supporter of President Obama’s “Clean Power Plan” (CPP)—which aims to rapidly shut down coal-fired power in America. If not for a Supreme Court stay of the CPP, Rhode Island might already be feeling the strain of a plan that will likely 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 gases, 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 continues to drive 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.

Whitehouse is, of course, grievously concerned that these modern-day coal plants still send carbon dioxide up the smokestack, which makes them a dire existential threat. Thus, they should be shut down as quickly as President Obama’s Clean Power Plan can mandate. But calling for the dismantlement of coal-fired plants, along with the elimination of fossil fuel power, is the same as advocating for the end of manufacturing self-sufficiency.

Thus the obvious contradiction when Senator Whitehouse repeatedly touts the latest industrial accomplishments of his home state. A quick study of his Facebook page reveals:

  • A July 18 post heralding the “massive transport ship, the Iris Leader,” which can now travel through the newly expanded Panama Canal—“presenting an opportunity to continue growing our shipping industry at the Quonset Development Corporation.”
  • 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.” This will “allow for longer flights – an important step forward for attracting businesses to Rhode Island and growing our economy.”
  • A June 30 post announcing 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 that Sen. Whitehouse wants to publicize these endeavors. Elected officials build their careers on the strength of just such localized accomplishments.

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 expanded pharmaceutical factory and the new airport runway will require gasoline-powered tractors, plows, 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. Steel can’t be constructed without coal to fire the the high-temperature ovens that produce molten metal. And it’s the chemical addition of metallurgical coal that gives steel its tensile strength.

So here’s the problem for Sen. Whitehouse: To wholeheartedly champion these projects, he must overlook the obvious fossil fuel connections. Otherwise, he’s contradicting his own longstanding, “anti-carbon” rhetoric.

This brings us back to the overall flaw in the senator’s call for more “renewable” energy. Wind and solar provide low-yield, intermittent forms of electric power. They’re unreliable because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. And they also can’t ramp up to the heavy needs of industry. Put simply, you can’t build a wind turbine with the electricity generated by a wind turbine. You need something that can do the heavy lifting. And that means coal, natural gas, oil, or nuclear power.

Senator Whitehouse can’t have it both ways—a nation running on renewables that can still manufacture goods and heavy equipment. It would help if Whitehouse studied the hard lessons learned by Europe after its impulsive leap into the deep end of green energy. The cost of household electricity in Germany, for example, has now climbed to almost three times the U.S. price. And this reckless foray into unpredictable, renewable energy is now perceived as a contributing factor in the Brexit “leave” vote.

If Senator Whitehouse wants to keep calling for an end to coal and fossil fuels, and for an expensive transition to wind and solar, then he shouldn’t simultaneously endorse the industrial successes of his home state.

Essentially, the senator is working to abolish an entire industry while celebrating its 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 fossil fuel “special interests.” Americans deserve better than such hypocritical politics.


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