West Virginia Lawmaker to World: I Have Too Much Time on My Hands

The age old debate between conservatives, liberals, and libertarians often centers around this question: What is government’s role in society? While we all have our leanings, nuances, and even uncompromising tenets, one legislator in West Virginia has taken the debate out of the stratosphere. In a stunning affront to commerce, liberty, and good sense, he wants an all-out ban on … take a guess … guns, cigarettes, gambling? Nope, try Barbie.

Barbie could get an unwelcome present for her 50th birthday: outlawed in West Virginia.

A state lawmaker proposed a bill Tuesday to ban sales of the iconic Mattel doll and others like her.

The proposal from Democratic Delegate Jeff Eldridge said such toys influence girls to place too much importance on physical beauty, at the expense of their intellectual and emotional development.

"Basically, I introduced legislation because the Barbie doll, I think, gives emphasis on if you’re beautiful, you don’t have to be smart," Eldridge said.

A Mattel spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The Barbie doll officially turns 50 on March 9, and the toy maker has made big plans this year to mark the anniversary.

Barbie has had her foes over that half-century. Critics said the doll promotes materialism and an unnatural body image.

First up to testify in opposition: Ken.

Coal Making Comeback for Some Businesses

America’s new likely Energy Secretary, nominee Steven Chu, is on record saying coal is his "worst nightmare." Well, he obviously hasn’t been locked in solitary with a stereo looping that migraine-inducing terror of a song, "Bad Day." That is my worst nightmare, and I’d contend it’s far worse than anything coal will ever provide.

But Chu’s (and Obama’s) aversion to coal is hardly music to the ears of the nation’s coal producers, namely the top five producing states (Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Texas). This is likely why the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council has a different take on coal:

For good measure, coal is affordable. On December 27, the New York Times ran a fascinating story titled "Burning Coal at Home Is Making a Comeback". While still a tiny fraction of the market, the story explained how the number of homes using coal as a heating fuel has risen. Coal consumption as a heating fuel, it was reported, hit a low in 2006, then rose by 7 percent in 2007 and more than 10 percent during the first eight months of 2008.

Opportunities have expanded for some small businesses. For example: "Dean Lehman, the plant manager for Hitzer Inc., a family-owned business in Berne, Ind., that makes smaller, indoor coal stoves, said his stoves were on back order until March. And Jeffery Gliem, the director of operations at the Reading Stove Company and its parent, Reading Anthracite, in Pottsville, Pa., which supplies coal and stoves to 15 states in the Northeast and Midwest, said the uptick in interest was the largest he had seen in 30 years. ‘In your typical year you might have five, six, seven thousand stoves being sold,’ Mr. Gliem said. ‘This year it was probably double that.’"

To get an idea on the cost differential, consider the following: "Coals vary in quality, but on average, a ton of coal contains about as much potential heat as 146 gallons of heating oil or 20,000 cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration. A ton of anthracite, a particularly high grade of coal, can cost as little as $120 near mines in Pennsylvania. The equivalent amount of heating oil would cost roughly $380, based on the most recent prices in the state – and over $470 using prices from December 2007. An equivalent amount of natural gas would cost about $480 at current prices." 

UPDATE: The Heritage Foundation just released this series of questions for Chu, as well.

Does Obama Really Want to Bankrupt the Coal Industry?

Our election night partners at Hoosier Access have a detailed post on this, but it seems Barack Obama actually told the San Francisco Chronicle that he would like such aggressive cap and trade measures put in place that it would bankrupt the coal industry?

Read the full post with audio here, and decide for yourself.

Indiana Coal Production since 2004:
2007 – 34,231,151 tons
2006 – 34,715,610 tons
2005 – 34,460,052 tons
2004 – 35,240,514 tons

In Indiana, we still have a rather heavy reliance on coal and it should be noted that Duke Energy is currently building the first large-scale clean coal plant in Edwardsport.

Not only would a collapse of the coal industry be detrimental to Indiana, but it would have an even greater impact on top coal producers like West Virginia, where the industry provides around 40,000 jobs.

Update: As you might imagine, those who understand coal’s contribution to the national economy aren’t super enthused about Obama’s comments. Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association, issued a press release today and mentions Indiana in his remarks:

"These undisputed, audio-taped remarks, which include comments from Senator Obama like ‘I haven’t been some coal booster’ and ‘if they want to build [coal plants], they can, but it will bankrupt them’ are extraordinarily misguided.

"It’s evident that this campaign has been pandering in states like Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana and Pennsylvania to attempt to generate votes from coal supporters, while keeping his true agenda hidden from the state’s voters.

Coal Conversion: We’ve Got Coal

West Virginia has some really nice state parks and a Greenbrier resort (and former famous congressional bunker hideaway) that is second to none. But the state certainly isn’t top of mind when it comes to economic development and innovation.

A headline that screams "W. Va. Takes Lead in Future of Fuel" will certainly draw attention. The plan: take advantage of the state’s greatest natural resource — coal — and turn it into gasoline and methanol in the first project of its kind in the United States. Incidentally, one of the partners (a Houston-based company) has already helped build a coal-to-liquids plant in China.

The $800 million project will provide security for West Virginia’s expansive coal industry, create additional jobs and potentially be part of the long-term solution to our country’s energy challenges. The president of Consol Energy, based in Pittsburgh, goes a little overboard when he terms West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin "one of the few governors in the 50 states who can spell coal."

Indiana has coal, maybe not as much as West Virginia, but ample supplies. It is crafting an entrepreneurial path of its own with Duke Energy’s coal gasification plant in Edwardsport. Can our state be a player in the coal-to-liquids game? We’re not sure.

The West Virginia project is intriguing. Read about it here.