by Jim Reynolds
I finally got around to reading the Summer 2010 issue of The Catalyst, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, of which I am a member. An article titled Burning Coal, Burning Cash was fascinating. I liked it so much, I stole the title for use in this piece. The article presents data that show that
The frightening thing is that $2.3 billion doesn’t begin to cover the actual cost of coal-fired power in
I’m talking about messes like the dispersal of soot and heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lead out of the smokestacks and across our landscape and into our ecosystem, our bodies and the food we eat.
I’m talking about messes like mountaintop removal strip mining which has leveled more than 2,200 square miles of
I’m talking about messes like the burial of more than 2,000 miles of Appalachian Mountain streams—the coal companies had to put those mountaintops somewhere so they filled in the valleys.
I’m talking about the pollution of tens of thousands of miles of Appalachian Mountain streams, most of it from acid mine drainage but also from heavy metals leached from the valley fills.
I’m talking about the displacement of Appalachian Mountain families and communities caused by flooding, landslides, toxic water, bad air, and mine subsidence that result from deforested, strip-mined mountains and underground mines.
I’m talking about messes like the toxic residue, in the form of coal ash, left behind after coal is burned. This material accounts for about 10% of the volume of coal and is stored in impoundments that will someday break as did the one in
I’m talking about messes like mine fires, explosions, and collapses, as well as other accidents, that kill miners every year.
I am talking about messes like the rising level of acidification of our oceans caused by the acid rain downwind of our coal-fired power plants. Acid dissolves the shells of plankton floating at the acidified surface. We are killing of the base of the marine food chain.
Finally, I’m talking about the havoc starting to be seen by the insane level of greenhouse gases being pumped into our atmosphere, primarily carbon dioxide. Coal-fired power plants are the leading contributor of carbon dioxide. For every ton of coal burned, more that 3½ tons of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere. The world burned nearly 7 billion tons of coal in 2007 and more than that each year since. This is a major contributor to the global warming that is driving the climate change we are only now starting to witness.
I hope you get my point. Who pays for the clean-up? It’s certainly not the mining companies or the power companies. If they did, your electric bills would skyrocket out of sight. They would no longer be able to tout that coal is the cheapest source of electricity. But you pay for it anyway. Instead of seeing it in your electric bill, it’s disguised as your tax dollars at work. These tax dollars subsidize coal mining. These tax dollars fund a slew of federal agencies to oversee, regulate, and fine the abuses of an industry that lives high on the hog using our money and our natural resources. These tax dollars fund the clean-up of the multiple messes that coal mining and coal burning leave behind.
You might wonder, “Are they insane? Why do they do this?” You should wonder, “Are we insane? Why do we let them do this?”
I have to ask a pair of hypothetical questions. “How much would we change our energy future if we invested one year’s $2.3 billion in
A quick walk around the
It is essential that our politicians, our populace, and our power companies change their mindset. The old ways are becoming the source of our ruin. There are too many of us to allow continued poisoning of our world. We need to create a new, clean, abundant, sustainable energy future. The consequences of not doing so will be detrimental to all of us.