Climate Of Capitulation

An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation

by Thomson

ISBN: 9780262340670 | Copyright 2017

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The United States has pledged to the world community a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 26–28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025. Because much of this reduction must come from electric utilities, especially coal-fired power plants, coal states will make or break the U.S. commitment to emissions reduction. In Climate of Capitulation, Vivian Thomson offers an insider’s account of how power is wielded in environmental policy making at the state level. Thomson, a former member of Virginia’s State Air Pollution Control Board, identifies a “climate of capitulation” in state government—a deeply rooted favoritism toward coal and electric utilities in states’ air pollution policies.


Thomson narrates three cases involving coal and air pollution from her time on the Air Board. She illuminates the overt and covert power struggles surrounding air pollution limits for a coal-fired power plant just across the Potomac from Washington, for a controversial new coal-fired electrical generation plant in coal country, and for coal dust pollution from truck traffic in a country hollow. Thomson links Virginia’s climate of capitulation with campaign donations that make legislators politically indebted to coal and electric utility interests, a traditionalistic political culture tending to inertia, and a part-time legislature that depended on outside groups for information and bill drafting. Extending her analysis to fifteen other coal-dependent states, Thomson offers policy reforms aimed at mitigating the ingrained biases toward coal and electric utilities in states’ air pollution policy making.

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Contents (pg. vii)
Acknowledgments (pg. ix)
Introduction (pg. 1)
Clean Air Policy Making at the State Level (pg. 3)
A Rationale for a Book About Air Pollution in the United States (pg. 5)
Shotgun Marriage Federalism (pg. 7)
The Air Board: A Citizen Regulatory Body (pg. 9)
Policy Firestorms (pg. 12)
A Climate of Capitulation in Virginia and Elsewhere (pg. 15)
The Many Faces of Power (pg. 17)
Sources of Information; Outline of the Book (pg. 19)
1 Mirant: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (pg. 23)
Prelude: Ozone and Shenandoah National Park (pg. 24)
Mirant Before the Air Board’s Direct Oversight (pg. 25)
The Air Board Joins the Mirant Fray (pg. 33)
Backlash in Richmond (pg. 39)
2 Wise: “Rogue Board” (pg. 45)
Waiting for Godot (pg. 48)
The Process Matters (pg. 56)
“Strictest Permit Limits Ever Written” (pg. 61)
3 Roda: Coal, Dust, and Inequality (pg. 69)
Why Worry About Dust? (pg. 72)
Air Quality Typical of Industrializing Countries (pg. 75)
“Them That’s Got Shall Get, Them That’s Not Shall Lose” (pg. 79)
4 A Climate of Capitulation (pg. 85)
The Law Does Not Speak for Itself (pg. 88)
Regulatory Capture vs. Climate of Capitulation (pg. 90)
Origins of Virginia’s Climate of Capitulation (pg. 95)
5 Shotgun Marriage Federalism (pg. 105)
Federal-State Collaborations Under the Clean Air Act (pg. 106)
Coal and the Three Faces of Power (pg. 109)
Partisanship Does Not Explain Action or Inaction of State Policy Makers (pg. 112)
Public Opinion and Policy Makers’ Decisions Are Not Necessarily Linked (pg. 115)
6 Six Crucial Coal States and the South (pg. 121)
Campaign Finance (pg. 121)
Political Culture (pg. 129)
State Legislative Professionalism (pg. 134)
The South (pg. 138)
7 “Thus Always to Tyrants”: Lessons and Reforms (pg. 145)
Strengths in How the Virginia Cases Unfolded (pg. 147)
Weaknesses in How the Virginia Cases Unfolded (pg. 149)
Implications for Other States (pg. 151)
The Clean Air Act as the Nation’s Climate-Change Law (pg. 152)
New Opportunities for Meaningful Citizen Engagement (pg. 155)
“You’ve Got to Dance with Them What Brung You”: Campaign Finance Reform (pg. 160)
Increase State Legislators’ Independence (pg. 163)
Encourage Decentralized Power Generation and Address Longstanding Inequalities (pg. 167)
“Intervening on Behalf of National Values” (pg. 170)
Appendix (pg. 173)
Notes (pg. 175)
Introduction (pg. 175)
Chapter 1 (pg. 180)
Chapter 2 (pg. 187)
Chapter 3 (pg. 194)
Chapter 4 (pg. 197)
Chapter 5 (pg. 201)
Chapter 6 (pg. 207)
Chapter 7 (pg. 213)
Bibliography (pg. 221)
Index (pg. 237)

Vivian E. Thomson

Vivian E. Thomson is Professor in the Departments of Environmental Sciences and Politics and Director of the Environmental Thought and Practice BA Program at the University of Virginia.


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