The Most Revolutionary Act

Diverse Ramblings of an American Refugee

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
New Plymouth, New Zealand
December 02
Retired psychiatrist, activist and author of 2 young adult novels - Battle for Tomorrow and A Rebel Comes of Age - and a free ebook 21st Century Revolution. My 2010 memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led me to leave the US in 2002. More information about my books (and me) at


Editor’s Pick
APRIL 24, 2012 9:17PM

Taking on Big Coal – and Winning

Rate: 19 Flag

coal train

More good news this month. All signs suggest that ordinary Americans are winning the battle against Big Coal (see * below). However you won’t read it in the New York Times. The mainstream media is never eager to report on the victories of grassroots movements.  Thus the Times neglected to report, in January 2012, that the EPA had revoked the waste disposal permit the Bush administration granted Arch Coal for one of the largest mountaintop removal projects in the country. It was definitely newsworthy – it’s totally unprecedented for the EPA to revoke an existing permit granted by the Army Corps of Engineers. They only reported the story when a US district judge reversed the ruling.

Mountaintop removal is a controversial method of coal mining in which the company dynamites the top of a mountain to get at the coal seam underneath. The process fills and contaminates hundreds of miles of streams with explosion debris, endangering the health of downstream communities when they lose access to clean drinking water. The EPA ruling resulted in part from a 2011 study revealing that mountaintop removal is linked to an increased risk of birth defects.

Remind Obama that He Works for Us

The Obama administration has sixty days to appeal the court decision. Knowing our President, he will need a really strong nudge to do so. Readers can go to Earth Justice user action to remind him he’s running for re-election and that he works for us, not Wall Street.

The De Facto Ban on New Coal-Fired Power Plants

That being said, the court ruling is a minor setback when viewed against a string of grassroots victories against Big Coal over the last decade. This despite of their well-funded campaign to convince us that climate change is a liberal-funded conspiracy. The grassroots movement fight climate change is particularly strong on the left coast. In the city of Portland, according to Climate Solutions, carbon emissions have declined by 26% since 1990 (you ain’t going to read that in the New York Times, either).

In the US, approximately 42% of electricity is still produced by coal-fired plants. However this ratio is decreasing rapidly, as existing plants become obsolete and a combination of state law and federal regulation amounts to a de facto ban on the construction of new coal-fired plants. The state legislatures of Washington, Oregon and California have outlawed the construction of new coal-fired plants. Plus both Washington and Oregon have passed legislation requiring their two remaining coal-fired plants (they have one each) to be decommissioned in 2025 and 2020 respectively. Although California still has ten remaining coal-fired plants, they only account for 0.7% of their generating capacity. Thus a decision by Los Angeles (population 12.9 million) to end their reliance of coal-generated electricity by 2020 will have a massive impact.

The Insane Scheme to Export 150 Million Tons to China

In the last five years, more than 160 new coal-fired plants across the US have been cancelled or placed on hold. The rapid phase-out of coal-generated electricity has caused American demand for coal to plummet. Accordingly, Big Coal has come up with a cockamamie scheme to export 150 million tons of coal per year (at present the US only burns 8 million tons per year) to China from strip mines in Wyoming and Montana. The coal companies propose to transport the coal by rail from the strip mines to ports in Washington and Oregon. The speed with which rural conservatives and urban liberals in both states have closed ranks against this crazy project  is nothing short of miraculous.

What we’re talking about here is eighty trains per day that are 1 ½ miles long, made up of 125 cars and pulled by four diesel locomotives. Can you imagine trying to get to your job or daycare center and getting stuck at a level crossing waiting for a 1 ½ mile train? Or worse still waiting for an ambulance or other emergency vehicle to get through? To say nothing of the health effects of constant exposure to mercury-laden coal dust or the particulate pollution from the four diesel locomotives.

Can you imagine the greenhouse effects of burning 100 million tons of coal per year? It makes no difference to planet Earth whether we burn the stuff in China or the US. According to Climate Solutions, the yearly CO2 emissions this would produce exceeds a lifetime of emissions produced by the controversial Keystone tar sands pipeline.

Northwest Residents Close Ranks

Thus far Northwest ports governed by elected port authorities (Seattle, Portland and Tacoma) have responded with a resounding “no.” As a fall-back position, Big Coal is seeking permits to build small private terminals in rural Washington – Cherry Point (near Bellingham), Longview and Grays Harbor, in rural Washington, and Coos Bay and St Helen’s in rural Oregon. Because these communities have no publicly elected port authority, they have been self-organizing to prevent environmental and use permits from being granted. More than half (246) doctors in Whatcom County have formed “Whatcom Docs” to fight the Cherry Point terminal. Church leaders, commercial fishermen, farmers, ranchers and elected officials have formed similar interest groups as part of the Power Past Coal Campaign. For more information and to sign a petition, go to

*Who is Big Coal? The two biggest US coal companies are Peabody and Arch Coal.

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"The mainstream media is never eager to report on the victories of grassroots movement."

Because the media's main job is convince the masses that the big money is America. To say anything against the big money is anti-American. Any defeat befalling the big money is anti-American. It would intriguing to see where this goes. Excellent article, Dr. R
Thanks, Thoth. I seem to get these obsessive preoccupations (my father would call it getting a hair up my ass). My current one is exploring all the ways that activists can organizing locally and regionally to uphold citizens' rights against corporations. I wrote about this in my last post about Virginia nullifying the NDAA. This campaign against Big Coal is another. Significantly both are non-partisan - instances in which conservatives/progressives agree that some stuff is just plan wrong.
Thanks for this. My education came from the doc "The Last Mountain." And let's not forget the other entities that are invested in keeping Big Coal alive. Like the rail systems that transport it.
The job is to keep the coal companies and their activities under wraps. The mainstream media knows that there will be public outrage over any headline referring to coal. Who was the court and where is the ruling?

Congrats on the EP. It's about time!
Excellent post Dr. Bramhall.

I remember reading about the EPA revocation of Arch Coal’s waste disposal permit and wondered why the MSM didn’t report on this important event.

Let’s face it; Big Coal represents one of the biggest roadblocks to preventing environmental catastrophe. But, because they have so many politicians and media executives in their pocket, it is difficult to stop them from destroying our planet.

I have forwarded your post to all of my environmentally-concerned friends.

Let’s hope that this issue receives greater exposure.
If our electricity isn't going to be generated by coal-fired plants, what will take its place, and will that fuel be any better? I'm concerned about natural gas exploration and fracking, which requires monumental amounts of already scarce water to draw oil from shale. I'd be interested in your thoughts on these issues as well. Thanks for the informative piece.
Great environmental post. We still are missing the essential understanding of the carbon-based war here. Are we still thinking that it's OK if we mine this emission creating source, ship it across the world and, due to it not being in 'our' air, all is cool? This is frightening, if we miss the larger point of the mining process, cutting the top off a mountain? Well, that's OK, as long as it's not in my town. Is this what we are allowing? Where are we here?
Deborah, to answer your question some of my best friends are renewable energy engineers. New Plymouth happens to be the energy capitol of New Zealand. Most of them have day jobs working for the oil/gas or pipeline companies. Because most of them know fossil fuels are a dead end, they are acquiring expertise in renewable energy in their spare time.

They tell me that the name of the game is to reduce our reliance on large, inefficient power plants through improved energy efficiency of homes and businesses and a move towards something called "distributed" energy production. It's far more efficient for communities to produce their own energy locally than to transport it thousands of miles on an energy grid (apparently you lose a substantial portion of the electricity you produce this way).

In New Plymouth, which has fairly mild winters like Seattle and Portland, it's now possible to insulate homes, install PVC panels (which have suddenly become extremely cheap) to produce electricity and solar hot water heaters - and to end up with no net external energy demand. I'm so excited because a new solar vendor has just set up shop here who sells meters that allow you to sell extra electricity you produce during the summer back to the grid. In this way you build up a credit, which you draw on during the winter when there is less sun.

Concentrating solar power (which uses parabolic mirrors to capture sunlight to heat water to run a steam turbine) is a great alternative to coal-fired plants in the Southwest. I am dead against gas-fired plants and fracking. Taranaki is also the fracking capitol of New Zealand, and we have whole clusters of people developing cancer and having miscarriages near fracking sites and the "landfarms' where fracking waste is contaminated.
Excellent point, inthisdeeppoint. I have just previewed a great film called "Economics of Happiness." The filmmakers argue that the only way ordinary people are going to acquire sufficient political power to "solve" the economic and ecological catastrophes we face is to rebuild strong localized systems of government and food and energy production.

This is one of the major drawbacks of globalization and the massive urbanization it has produced. The environmental damage is always happening someplace else. If food and energy are being produced locally, we know if the producers are causing environmental damage and can hold them accountable.
This sounds very nice, but it's mostly a fantasy being pushed by the administration. First off, they support the export of "clean coal" (that is, perfectly dirty coal but it's supposedly going to be used in some sort of magical "clean" way) to China. Both POTUS and the VP have said so. Second, there's every reason to believe that both the new EPA standards and the XL pipeline freeze will go away after O's re-election (yes, I've taken to calling him by Oprah's moniker, it's fitting). This is a pattern with these guys. Both points will be used to negotiate some minor get in congress, like maybe an extension on certain healthcare provisions. And finally, it is NOT true that coal plants are on some kind of hold in the US. There are close to 600 operating in a perfectly dirty way and none of them are required to comply with anything they don't want to. Yes, the energy industry has a way of defending itself. This is what really happens when the government actually attempts to put any of the new regulations into practice:

And while in this case the companies will have to do something in 2017 (the emission rates talked about are negotiated on a case by case basis, despite the impression that they're not), and again in 2025, that, too, can be taken care of. This is a wedge case, watch for the deals to get longer and the lowballing on standards to begin in earnest after November.

Nice try though.


PS According to the DOE, 24 new coal plants are being built in the US right now, so...the industry doesn't seem to feel that these standards will be around very long.
I haven't had time to read this, but it's about damn time. You've had quite a few articles that should have been editor's picks, but were so consistently ignored that I thought it would never happen. I'm glad it finally did. Congrats.
Thanks for your input, Boko (and Malcolm). It makes sense that Obama will revert to his old pro-corporate ways after the election. Hopefully the local grassroots campaign will have enough muscle by then to prevent the new port facilities from being permitted.
Contrary to your post, the NY Times did in fact report on the EPA revoking the Spruce Mine permit -- and it happened in January 2011, not January 2012, as you wrote.

The story is online here:

Ken Ward Jr.
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette
Great. Somebody else who is not really affected by their actions taking a stand that is going to hurt those who can least afford it. What is her solution to fix things? Put money, they don't have, can't borrow, can't afford into their homes. Since most of the poor are renters the landlord doesn't care if the utility bills are high.

Now look at the same jobs lost.. Way to go.
This war on goal in not unexpected at all. These new rules however show a positive step in the direction of regulatory policy reform and realization rather than just expecting the impossible.Applying these new rules to NEW plants and not those currently existing is a very smart and important move by the EPA both for regulatory practices and businesses ( Such a method of building symbioses between regulation will really help us to begin to fix our problems and make some progress.
Thank you, Dr. Bramhall. I'm encouraged by your current pursuit ("exploring all the ways that activists can organizing locally and regionally to uphold citizens' rights against corporations"). I also feel that we have to join in creating local solutions, to replace those mechanisms which have been supplied by those corporations, at least in some way which is less damaging, more responsive and easier to oversee. It may be the case that this will be possible, with both arising technologies and shared experiences, facilitated by the internet in a way we have never been able to, prior to this time.
Congrats on EP, Dr. - well-deserved - everybody has already said what I would've, so I'll just rate.

Thanks, Dr. Bramhall. I've been looking for your name and not seen your articles for a while. I may need new glasses, but meanwhile, hoping all is well with you.

I have been keeping something of a watch on solar panels, and there are at least a dozen game changers out there, anyone of which would work well. I have read that some panels are already compatible with coal prices. As much as I know technology alone won't save our species, there are some amazing things going on that are remarkably positive.
[r] Stuart, gratifying to hear this success. thanks for sharing it! oxymoron "clean coal" losing its spin potency let's hope. best, libby
“More good news this month. All signs suggest that ordinary Americans are winning the battle against Big Coal (see * below). However you won’t read it in the New York Times. The mainstream media is never eager to report on the victories of grassroots movements. Thus the Times neglected to report, in January 2012, that the EPA had revoked the waste disposal permit the Bush administration granted Arch Coal for one of the largest mountaintop removal projects in the country. It was definitely newsworthy – it’s totally unprecedented for the EPA to revoke an existing permit granted by the Army Corps of Engineers. They only reported the story when a US district judge reversed the ruling.”
Only someone who could care less about the economic prosperity and job creation in the United States would suggest that the “good news” was that the EPA unilaterally revoked a legal permit for one of the largest coal mining companies in the States.
Excuse me, former American living in New Zealand, but the main stream media did not report the reversal of the EPA outrageous ruling,the Court also issued a sharp rebuke to the Agency for assuming powers far beyond its charter.

“In a sharp rebuke, a federal judge on reversed a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke a critical permit for one of the nation's largest mountaintop removal mining projects.

The United States District Court judge, Ms Amy Berman Jackson, said that the EPA's unilateral decision in January 2011 to rescind the waste disposal permit for the Spruce No 1 mine in Logan County, exceeded the agency’s authority and violated federal law. She declared that the permit was now valid, paving the way for a large and long disputed mining project covering 2,278 acres to go forward.

Judge Ms Jackson said the action was a stunning power for an agency to arrogate to itself that the law did not support. She said that the agency had resorted to magical thinking to justify its action revoking the permit. "Poof!" she wrote.”
The EPA is not interested in the welfare of the general public! The EPA is an agenda driven bunch of overly paid bureaucrats who themselves are radical environmentalists or who bend to the commands of a Sierra Club,
You seem so terribly excited about “160 new coal fired plants being delayed or cancelled, or placed on hold.” And how many jobs were lost, in the process, 5,000, 10,000, 100,000? Do you have any idea what the hell you are talking about other than “Solar good, coal bad”! China has been building a new coal fired plant “weekly”, and there is nothing “insane” about the potential sale of millions of Tons of coal to China? What IS insane is the radical left, temporarily in control of the Oval Office and the Senate, and the undermining of America’s competitive advantage in the world market place by forcing energy prices skyward.
I would love to know how you determined that a “scheme to export 150 million tons of coal to China” is INSANE? You should at least do some homework before publishing an essay on a major liberal venue.
No wonder the young people here are so ill-informed. Adults take advantage of their naiveté and fill their brains with garbage. The old saying “garbage in, garbage out” most certainly applies to the lack of education kids are getting in colleges these days from liberal professors who rant just like this insane women in New Zealand, and don’t do their own homework.
A major deal WAS SIGNED, and it could be worth $150 million. I don’t want to confuse so many of you here with facts, but you might want to read the recent “press release” describing this transaction:
L&L Signs Strategic Sales Agreement with a Large Coal Logistics Corporation
Published: March 21, 2012
SEATTLE, March 21, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- L & L Energy, Inc. (Nasdaq: LLEN) ("L&L"), a U.S. based company since 1995 with coal mining and distribution businesses in China, announced today that it signed a strategic sales agreement with AVIC International Coal Logistics Co., Ltd. ("AVIC Logistics") to expand its efficiency and coal sales throughout the Guizhou province.

AVIC Logistics is a known logistics and supply chain management company based in Guizhou and is currently investing in building a coal trading and logistic system throughout the province. AVIC Logistics is a subsidiary and acts as the coal arm of the AVIC International (Aviation Industry Corporation of China International Co.), a major China Central Government-led enterprise which manufactures and markets fixed wing aircrafts for commercial and military purposes. AVIC International has annual sales in excess of US$ 10 billion.

Under the strategic agreement, L&L is to utilize AVIC Logistics' platform, wholesale, and railroad network, to jointly market one million to two-million tons of coal in the calendar 2012. Using US$ 150 per ton coal price, the agreement if executed, could generate over US$ 150 million in revenues. L&L and AVIC Logistics will also work together to develop a strong supply chain management system aimed at supporting the development strategy of both parties, grow domestic and international markets with the objective of mutual benefit and development, and work together going forward throughout consolidation process in Guizhou.
"I am very pleased with the caliber of partners L&L is working with in China. L&L is upgrading its operations from dealing with individual proprietors to working with large institutions in the China's coal industry," Dickson Lee, Chairman and CEO of L&L commented. "After entering into joint MOUs' with two large institutions, including China Chengtong Metal Corporation (the former China Ministry of Material), we are able to further improve operations with help from AVIC Logistics' resources and network. We look forward to a fruitful relationship with AVIC Logistics to generate additional sales, improve our operational efficiency, and help meet China's robust coal demands."
Photos of the signing ceremony are available on L&L's website,
I will leave it up to your readers…WHO IS TRULY INSANE HERE???

The following video is an outstanding example of how the radical left has taken total control of the EPA, an agency founded with the best of intentions to insure clean air and waters, but has degenerated into a Gestapo like wing of the Democrat Party.
I was born in Schuykill County, PA where the Swatara Mining Company despoiled the Appalachian landscape with strip mining.
No question that there were major abuses by the mining industry, and others such as the chemical industry, that had no regard for the environment or concerns about the toxic discharges into streams and rivers.
Thankfully, we have come a long way from the 1960's when the last of the strip mining operations closed, and certainly from "Love Canal" in New York State that was an outrageous attack on the environment.

However, the pendalum has now swung too far in the other direction and agencies, such as EPA, OSHA, DOE, etc, now see their mission in life being to regulative every fossil fuel business into bankruptcy, and will take the economy with them.

There has to be a balance in regulation from government. These days, actions by the alphabet soup of agencies appears to be anti-business, and more and more power to a big government.

The most egregious example would be the EPA unilaterally ordering Range Oil to cease operations. Range is the company that discoverd the Marshallian natural gas fields in Pennsylvania.

After two years the EPA withdrew from the law suit admitting that they had no proof of contamination from fracking. Over the past several years, the EPA has been a rogue agency, totally out of control and looking to "crucify" American Industry.
Thanks for reporting this good news, Dr. Bramhall. Thanks for the reminder that the grassroots do have power, and lots of positive change can come from the bottom up.
For over forty years John Prine says it all in Paradise :
Good news, great post
I couldn't believe it. The other night I watched a NPR program about our "energy grid" They actuallys touted these mines, that I had never really heard about, claiming this was "clean coal". It's disgusting!
Something else about these companies...They have a history of acquiring cemetaries in coal-rich areas.. And if they cannot find living relatives...Oh well. Keep your ancestors close!
Congrats on the EP, and thanks for continuing to write about such important topics.