Monday, November 17, 2014

Obama waging a war on coal? Hah, hah

Not even remotely, this open letter from PEER states:
The mid-term election results sent the distressing message that these were the good old days and it’s only downhill from here.  Anti-environmental riders will be springing up faster than Uber drivers.  Political battle-lines will become so embedded that Hill denizens will contract trench-foot.
A seam running through much of this fighting revolves around coal.  Newly re-elected Senate (now) Majority Leader Mitch McConnell campaigned hard against what he termed Obama’s “War on Coal” and how it was costing Kentucky good jobs and creating hardships. In fact, it seems that coal is waging war on Kentucky:
  • Black lung disease among coal miners in eastern Kentucky has risen tenfold in the past 15 years.  This progressive massive fibrosis is lethal with few treatment options and no cure;
  • Coal mining remains very dangerous work and it is getting harder to enforce mine safety laws. One bit of solace is the criminal indictment of former Massey Coal CEO Don Blankenship – four years after chronic safety violations killed 29 miners; and
  • Mounting evidence about the social and human health cost of coal mining – especially mountaintop removal techniques –  documents shattered lives and communities.
Mitch McConnell could not survive a month working in a coal mine – though it is an intriguing notion.  His advocacy is rooted in pander-ship, not leadership. Even coal-state stalwarts, such as the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia, saw the need to help transition his state away from dependence on only coal. But McConnell – and more importantly his financial backers – benefit if rural Kentucky remains in a third-world, mine dependent and extraction scarred condition.
The other canard is that President “All of the Above Energy Plan” Obama is actually waging a war on coal.  If he was, he is letting a strategic opportunity slip through his fingers.
The coal industry enjoys a huge subsidy because it does not have to clean up after itself.  Coal mining creates the biggest waste stream in the country. The country’s second largest waste stream is coal combustion wastes – 120 million tons a year of the intensely nasty arsenic, lead, and other heavy metal-laden stuff that scrubbers block from billowing out of smokestacks.

Thanks to a vacuum in federal regulation, the coal industry does not have to properly dispose of this vast sea of highly toxic combustion wastes. Imagine if the nuclear power industry was allowed to shred its spent fuels rods and throw them into the pits of old uranium mines and call it “beneficial reuse.” That is exactly what coal plants are doing.

As a result of a horrendous coal ash lagoon blowout in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008 – an event labelled one of America’s ten worst human-caused environmental disasters –   the new Obama administration pledged to regulate coal ash by the end of 2009.  Their proposed regulation was long-delayed, watered down and required litigation to finally get an adoption schedule 

Meanwhile, PEER is pressing Obama’s reluctant coal warriors to –
Help us make the coal industry clean up after itself responsibly. 
Jeff Ruch
Executive Director

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