Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Naughty or Nice?

Will there be coal in our stocking? There are a few versions of how coal in the stocking of naughty kids came to be. One version claims as Santa was filling stockings hung over the fireplace he simply reached down to the bucket for a handful of coal to fill the naughty kids’ stockings. Another version claims a woman wanted to bring baby Jesus some toys but passed up the offer of the wise men to accompany them to find him and got lost. Every year as she continues her search she leaves toys along the way to the good children and coal for the naughty children.

Fast forward to 2008-2009 and the coal industry would like to re-brand coal as nice and put it in every child's stocking.

Despite what they tell you in the slick multi-million dollar advertising campaign, coal is not nice. Or clean. Never has been. The coal industry is just trying to greenwash it. Though I'm sure if we were to invest billions more in clean coal technology it's possible we'd figure it out. But I don't see why we would want to.

If you ask me, investing in the coal industry would be like investing to save the company that makes typewriters instead of the one that makes computers. Only 1,000 times over. Sure there are a few old diehards who like their typewriters but they're a dying breed.

I'm hoping the same is true for coal supporters. I understand the importance of being energy independent, but even if coal was clean, it wouldn't compensate for all the other strikes against it.

I'll list those strikes but I'll have to pretend for a minute. I'll have to pretend we did invest billions into technology so coal burns cleanly and it no longer pollutes the air with cancer causing smog and mercury creating acid rain, killing lakes and oceans, making fish too polluted to eat. And quite possibly causing the high rates of autism and other brain diseases. I'll also have to pretend that we did it in a way that doesn't merely shift the pollution under the ground.

Batter Up

It's becoming harder to mine as well as more expensive to mine. To that end they're blowing the tops off mountains to get it, burying entire streams below.

Mining and burning it for energy requires 70 to 260 million gallons of water a day, contaminating most of it. Some of it in forever highly polluted ponds.

Burning coal produces 120 million tons of solid waste every year.

Coal production would have to increase 40% to replace 10% of our oil use.

Increasing coal production wouldn't increase jobs. Over the last ten years mine production rose 32% but the number of mining jobs dropped by 29%. (Which is a good thing.)

In a ten year period about 12,000 miners died of black lung disease.

Coal plants can cost $1 billion and up to build using today's "cleaner" technology.

New estimates say we only have a 100 year supply- and that's if we don't add any new power plants.

8 strikes and your out?

The EPA projects a loss of more than 1.4 million acres – an area the size of Delaware – by the end of the decade. Destroying the natural beauty of communities for generations to come by blowing the tops off mountains, burying streams and leaving behind forever polluted lakes is unconscionable. Especially when there are alternatives.

And new coal plants are only being considered because coal is cheaper than natural gas and oil --as long as it receives government subsidies and is not forced to pay for environmental and health damages.

At our current rate of population growth, our need for electricity doubles every 10-12 years. (Another good reason to push for a population policy?) So we do need to add more power but regardless, coal energy prices will continue to rise, whereas renewables will decline over time. Just because coal is there doesn't mean we have to use it, does it? Because if that's an argument, then the sun is there too and will be around a lot longer than coal.

No matter how coal got its reputation for being a replacement of little gifts for naughty children, it's never been more deserving of it then it is today. Are we going to allow the coal industry to tell us differently and fill every child's stocking with coal? Or more realistically, are we going to invest in typewriters for our kids’ future or computers?

The good news.

Bank of America will phase out financing mining companies whose "predominant method of extracting coal is through mountaintop removal".

Also, the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board kind of put a freeze on the construction of as many as 100 new coal-fired power plants that were on the table around the U.S. They did this to give the Obama administration time to develop rules on carbon dioxide emissions from them. (Something to do with the Supreme Court ruling saying the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.)

I Love has a petition you can sign to ask president-elect Obama to end mountaintop removal in his first 100 days. You can find it here:

Sierra Club has a petition to president-elect Obama to "Repower, Refuel, and Rebuild America". You can find it here:

BTW, turning coal to liquid is another dream of creating a new industry but one that will require billions in investments. Right now one ton of coal produces only two barrels of oil. That's a lot of destruction for something that will be consumed in a flash.

TTFN, LDouglas

And big holiday MWAH! to everyone from...

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