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 http://www.powerpastcoal.org/
*Who is Big Coal? The two biggest US coal companies are Peabody and Arch Coal.Share and Enjoy: