Like most "true believer" environmentalists, I would prefer to phase out coal power ASAP, shut down and mothball all atomic energy plants, "Conserve, Baby, Conserve" instead of drilling in the ANWAR, off our coasts and on public lands (which, I thought, belong to all of us!)
Sustainable energy is here
Of course, I'm not a "naysayer!" There are alternatives for all these nasty power sources, and we can be Energy Independent much quicker if we rapidly install wind and solar, the newest in hydroelectric technology, which doesn't involve building dams, and develop geothermal energy (as long as it doesn't destroy natural areas,) bio diesel and other biofuels (with their cradle-to-grave lifecycle is thoroughly vetted.) Many books have been written about this, environmental groups have lobbied, and I have sent every petition I've been asked to send.
Why don't those politicians understand?
But still politicians, including Presidential candidates for both parties, 3/4 of whom profess a great interest in sustainable fuels, and all 4 in energy independence, keep talking about "clean" coal (as well as nuclear and off-shore drilling, which are not the story I want to tell today.)
Gotta do something!
In desperation I have sent emails to various environmental organizations with an interest in this (like the Sierra Club (see http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/200701/coal.asp,) Appalachian Voices, ILoveMountains.org and others,) asking why they haven't been able to convince the candidates that there's no such thing as "clean" coal. But either they haven't responded, or they are just as frustrated as I am.
How can coal be clean?
In case you can't understand why anyone could get the idea that coal could be clean, you might want to read about this concept at wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_coal. But be sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom to read the Criticism section as well. "Clean" coal technology would be a dream come true - there's lots of coal, of course, both here and in China, among other places. But it just can't be done.
Do the politicians know something I don't?
To try to figure out why the candidates aren't listening, I decided to go to the blog area of http://my.barackobama.com/ to see what people were writing about coal. That's when my eyes were opened by this message from Ellen in Huntington, WV and the comments that followed:
The local NBC affiliate in Huntington, WV has a headline: VP Candidate Biden Says No to Coal Plants in U.S. The people here were starting to get used to the idea of voting for Obama, the local union UMWA staged a walk out to protest the NRA false claims about his gun stance! So I was hopeful that Obama would at least get a few votes. THIS ONE HEADLINE will give everyone of those on the fence or grudgingly going Obama the excuse they needed to vote McCain. With all the "I heart coal" bumper stickers, etc. this will be the end. UNLESS there is swift action, not just from spokespeople, but from the candidate, to ease their minds about the #$% coal industry. The article is complete with response from the Republican representative from the area.
This off-the-cuff one line is a game changer here in the coal fields. It is time to stand up and actually try to win WV or let those working so hard to do it FOR them give it up.
An article called Frank talk of Obama and race in Virginia in today's LATimes opened my eyes a little more. The coal miners' union UMWA is doing all that it can to get Obama elected, because they figure Democratic policies are better for their members than the other party's. But it stands to reason that coal is their livelihood, for better or for worse. We environmentals in their eyes are planning to take away their source of income.
Is there a win/win situation?
In our eyes, of course, we are saving them from early death from black lung, polluted water, coal dust, mountain top removal and the loss of their favorite fishing streams and hunting grounds. But we haven't provided them with alternative ways to support their families. Before we can remove coal as an energy source, we have to replace it in the local economy.
Now the large coal mining companies, like Massey, have started doing this all by themselves. With the new methods of mining they need far fewer miners than before. When they can, they fire all the union miners (I have my information from the book Coal River.) The miners that have been laid off in these areas are beginning to find other ways to support themselves and their families, and discovering that life doesn't have to be all coal dust and black lung. They are also getting very tired of losing their fishing streams to good topsoil shoved into the valleys. They are devastated when a family graveyard that has been kept for over a century is part of the earth that is moved. And of course, there is a lot of ill will between those guys on the big earth movers, who are non-union, and the local guys who got laid off.
Who are these West Virginians (or western Virginians, or Kentuckians or Tennesseeans) who depend on coal? Is it more the shareholders of the mining companies, their lawyers and everyone else who has a livelihood from the mines, but doesn't have to experience the destruction and ill health? Are they even Democratic voters?
What are the alternatives?
Originally uploaded by iLoveMountains.org.
While I was looking through pictures on Flickr to find an illustration for this article, I came upon this picture of windmills on the mountaintops providing energy, rather than relying on the coal under them. And I found a website http://www.coalrivergroup.com/ devoted to tourism along the Coal River. So local people are looking for local alternatives to mining coal. Coal River Mountain Watch is looking for alternatives to destruction in green jobs.
I think there are a lot of residents of Appalachia who would welcome politicians who want to help them get beyond the destruction and ill health of coal - maybe not the ones who have the money to lobby or to contribute to politicians - but the real Americans who live outside the cities. the ones who are doing the hard work - or not, as their jobs disappear along with their hunting grounds. I think they'd be delighted with a new green job, and better health and opportunities for their children. Let's support the people! And we don't need coal to do it!