Monday, June 29, 2009


Coal is important to the Ohio River Valley. Just count the number of coal-fired power plants along the river or see how many coal barges you see moving on the river or (lately) tied up along its banks.

Thus, two items regarding FutureGen -- the clean coal demonstration plant planned for Illinois -- have caught my eye.

Today on the New York Times Web site is an opinion piece on FutureGen, and it's not favorable. Here are the first two paragraphs:

WHILE President Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal to reduce greenhouse gases has been the big topic of recent environmental debate, the White House has also been pushing a futuristic federal project to build a power plant that burns coal without any greenhouse gases. Sounds great, right? Except the idea is a rehash of a proposal that went bust the first time around.

More important, the technology already exists to make huge reductions in greenhouse emissions from coal, allowing power companies to begin cutting the carbon footprint of coal today. Instead, advanced-technology coal power sits on the shelf while regulators wait to see what happens with a project that may be just an expensive boondoggle.

The other news item came last week, when AEP and Suthern Co. said they were pulling out of FutureGen. It should be noted that AEP wants to build two or three low-emission coal plants that would do much the same as FutureGen, but it can build and bring them on line must faster than FutureGen can do.

This is from the Reuters story:

"AEP and Southern were both told that to continue participation in FutureGen, each company would have to fund the project by $5 million for the next four to six years," AEP spokesman Pat Hemlepp told Reuters.

"That's up to $30 million we think we can spend better elsewhere," said Hemlepp. "We have so many other climate change programs we can spend the money on that would have gone to FutureGen, like the Mountaineer plant in West Virginia."

But there were already questions about FutureGen's goals. Two weeks ago, environmental groups were questioning whether FutureGen's revised goal of 60 percent carbon capture versus the original goal of 90 percent had damaged the value of the project, according to the NYT.

FutureGen has promise, but it has all the possibility of being an expensive, forgotten experiment such as the H-Coal plant at Catlettsburg KY during the Carter administration. The question is whether private utilities will move faster on building cleaner coal-fired power plants than those that are in use now.

NS bridge at Kenova

The Norfolk Southern bridge at Kenova WV. When you count the trestle leading up to the bridge, this is one loooong bridge.

Photo taken on a bright, sunny summer morning.

Thanks, dsmcg

Yesterday evening I went down to Ironton, Ohio, to pay my respects to the first editor who took me under his wing to make me a better newspaperman. David Stephen Francis Joseph McGuire -- Dave -- passed away last week afer several years of kidney and heart problems.

Dave was the most focused newspaperman I encountered in my thirty-year career at The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, W.Va. And he was the best teacher of newspapering that I ever had.

The one thing I really appreciated about Dave was that he trusted us to do our jobs. He was as far removed from being a micromanager as you can expect while still making sure you did what you were supposed to. Dave figured that we reporters were hired to do a job because we were able and willing, so he trusted us to do it. He didn’t like seeing to many reporters in the newsroom. As he told me once, there’s no news happening in here. On a particularly slow summer day, he told me to spend a few hours driving around Lawrence County, Ohio, to look for something interesting. Even if I didn’t find anything, I would know more about the county I was assigned to cover.

Dave had a lot of faith in me early on. He allowed me to explore my interest in the Ohio River and the people, places and things on it, in it, along it, under it and over it. With his help, I wrote some pretty good stuff. When I got off track, he wasn’t afraid to use some four-letter words to straighten me out. But when he got on you, you knew he was right and that you needed it.

Dave rose up the hierarchy at The Herald-Dispatch, but eventually he ran into editors sent here by corporate who didn’t appreciate his plain-spoken dedication to old-style newspapering. They moved him over to the copydesk, where he spent five nights a week writing headlines and placing stories on pages. From what I hear, he helped a few young copyeditors get their heads on straight, too.

One thing I liked about Dave was how he could let you know you had made a mistake, but he used it as a moment for teaching, not berating or humiliation. Once he was reading one of my stories and decided he needed to remove a word. “We can let everyone know he’s a liar without using ‘however,’ ” Dave told me.

And he protected the people he supervised. Back in the early 1980s, I noticed a lot of the Ford dealerships in smaller towns in our area had closed, and I did a story that led the Sunday Business page. The dealer in Huntington complained about how he was left out. Dave refused to have me do another story, saying the piece was about small-town dealers, not urban ones. Another reporter was assigned to do a puff piece on that particular advertiser to keep him happy.

When The Herald-Dispatch eliminated my job on May 22, a lot of my younger colleagues told me how much they appreciated the help I had given them over the years. I had guided them in finding sources, in writing articles on complex topics in simple language, and in the peculiar history of our region. I realized last night that I had been doing for these younguns what Dave had done for me.

Many of us who respected Dave and were found of him have swapped stories these past few days. He was a blue-collar Irish Catholic boy who studied for the priesthood for a year, then decided “the Lord’s boot camp” wasn’t for him. He loved the University of Kentucky Wildcats, although I can’t recall him ever telling of ever setting foot on the campus or in Rupp Arena. But he grew up in Ashland, Ky., where rooting for UK is genetic.

And Dave was never fond of computers. The HD got its first computer system in or around 1974. It wasn’t long after that that Dave decided “technology sucks.” He said those words so often that many of us can’t talk of Dave without using those words.

So thanks, Dave, for teaching so many of us and allowing us to develop our talents and interests under your firm and fair hand. Thanks for being a newspaperman whose dedication was to the product, not your personal ambition.

If the newspaper industry today is in trouble, it’s because it has forced out people like Dave McGuire.

RIP, Dave. You’ll never know how much you’re missed.