2012 has been a remarkable year. While millions of us were touched by the effects of coal pollution — from contaminated waterways in Appalachia, to kids struggling with asthma near coal-fired power plants, to hurricanes and droughts and wildfires made worse by climate disruption — thanks to the huge strides made by the grassroots movement that is moving America beyond coal, we have a fighting chance of turning the corner on all of these problems.
While I could easily think of many inspiring, moving, and unforgettable victories from 2012 that were milestones in transitioning our country from coal to clean energy, I didn’t want to write a 20,000 word column.
So, here’s my “Best Of 2012” list by the numbers:
• 0 new coal plants broke ground (same in 2010 and 2011).
• 13 proposed coal plants abandoned or defeated.
• 53 coal plants retired or announced to retire (grand total: 126 coal plants announced for retirement since January 2010).
• 18,789 megawatts of coal retired or announced to retire (grand total: 46,904 MW retired or announced to retire since January 2010). These coal boilers emitted 176 million metric tons of carbon pollution.
• 90 percent of mercury pollution from existing coal plants — our nation’s biggest source of mercury pollution – will be eliminated, thanks to national mercury protections finalized by Environmental Protections Agency this year.
• 1,992 MW of solar power installed as of September 2012 — bringing the total amount of solar operating in the U.S. to 5,900 MW.
• 4,728 MW of wind power installed through September 2012 — a growth of 40 percent from September 2011. In total there is now 51,630 MW of wind power operating in the U.S.
• 12 million homes could be powered by the amount of solar and wind generated in the first nine months of 2012 — about 10 percent of the country.
• 13,872 workers added to the solar industry in 2012 — a growth of 13.2 percent over 2011.
• 8 percent decrease in overall electric sector carbon dioxide emissions between August YTD 2012 and August YTD 2011, mainly due to a decline in coal-fired generation.
• 32 percent of overall generation provided by coal in April 2012, a historic low for the coal industry. This milestone culminated in a 22 percent drop in coal generation compared with the same time period last year.
Personally, one of the victories of 2012 that was most significant to me was the agreement that the Sierra Club and our allies reached with Patriot Coal. Appalachia’s third largest coal mining company agreed to phase out its mountaintop removal operations and retire most of its large scale surface mining equipment.
I’ve been working for a decade to end mountaintop removal, so this victory for Appalachia’s land and people was especially powerful for me. My daughter is an 11th generation West Virginian, and I now have more hope than ever that she will grow up able to enjoy the mountains and rivers that are her birthright, handed down to her through the generations.
The health of our families and our children are the big winners in 2012. Through landmark pollution standards and a decline in coal power, millions of Americans have cleaner air and water, our children are safer from toxic chemicals, and we’ve laid the building blocks for averting future climate disasters.
The grassroots movement against coal continues to make these amazing strides. Together, we are targeting every stage of the coal lifecycle in more than forty states, and we have grown to become one of the largest and broadest grassroots environmental campaigns in the nation’s history. This movement is inspiring and committed. It gives me hope that when my daughter grows up, she will be living in a country relying on clean energy — with clean air and clean water — where the climate crisis no longer looms as a threat to all kids and families.
We still have lots of work to do. In 2013, the Beyond Coal campaign and all our allies will be working hard to ensure we turn the corner on climate change, save more lives and mountains and rivers, and build a bright future for all children. I look forward to working with you in the new year to move America beyond coal, to clean energy.
Scroll down to see our Beyond Coal 2012 infographic.