Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dirty, Dirty Coal continues

One of the editorials in the The LA Times today is Coal ash -- a Tennessee wake-up call. They write

Of all the environmental and health problems caused by coal -- mining it destroys rivers and blackens miners' lungs, and burning it emits climate-changing gases, toxic pollutants and heavy metals -- perhaps the least recognized until recently was the solid waste it generates. The Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn., had a pile of ash covering more than 100 acres and rising 65 feet, the product of more than 50 years of operations. More than a billion gallons of it poured out Dec. 22, marking the nation's worst coal plant spill.

and compare coal burning with cigarette smoking - the one ruins our bodies, the other our environment. They also compare the spill with the oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, which effectively put a stopper to more oilwells off the California coast. They hope that this spill will finally be the eye-opener to get us off "cheap" coal power, by finally requiring environmental regulation that will make coal more expensive than the renewables that are trying to replace it.

However an email I received today from Laurie David of http://www.stopglobalwarming.org/ calling Coal Plant Spill Worse Than Exxon Valdez: "It was the largest coal slurry spill in U.S. history, and the amount released was more than 50 times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill," is less confident when she writes: "Yet the story has not received the level of press coverage it deserves," which others have also noted. Nevertheless, she, too, concludes on a hopeful note: "Hopefully the spill will ignite the debate over the environmental safety of coal power plants," although I could find no mention of the spill on their site.

Don't let climate change divert us from combating other environmental dangers.

My worry is that, although the dangers of climate change are invigorating environmental activists, the entire goal of activism is now is to combat climate change, forgetting entirely all the other issues that have driven environmental activists, since 1990 under the umbrella of "sustainability:" our wilderness, since Thoreau and Teddy Roosevelt, and toxics since Rachel Carlson wrote Silent Spring, with its outing of DDT (and then other agricultural chemicals) as more detrimental than beneficial. More recently Ralph Nader started the interest in consumer security, which also involves the use of chemicals in food, clothing and other products.

Let's fight coal for all these reasons:

  • CO2
  • habitat destruction
  • toxic substances
  • water quality
  • quality of life
  • "thinking globally while acting locally,"
  • all the personal reasons the people in coal country, or downwind from a coal fired plant may have.

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