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Why does Dale Earnhardt Jr. hate the air?

NASCAR is not the most green sport in the universe, efforts to be more environmentally friendly notwithstanding. It's dozens of cars whipping around a track, burning fuel as fast as possible to move pistons. Very few hippies attend races.

ThinkProgress assessed the sport's environmental footprint last month. Their calculations suggest that one race uses 6,000 gallons of fuel, emitting 120,000 pounds of CO2. That's in addition to the eight to 10 sets of tires each of the 40 teams use and the oil in the engines. Hell, until 2007, NASCAR used leaded gasoline. (To the sport's credit, they are increasingly using slightly-more-environmentally friendly ethanol in their fuel.)

Dale Earnhardt Jr., surrounded by his mortal enemy. (Photo by Ted Murphy.)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of NASCAR's top drivers. He's a legacy in the sport; his father was killed in a crash at Daytona in 2001. Over the course of his career, Junior (as he's called) has raced 455 times -- meaning he alone can be credited with about 1.36 million pounds of CO2 just on the track. And that's not to mention the other emissions from burning fuel: particulates and contributors to smog. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not exactly a champion of air quality.

Read more: Coal


A weekend of protests barely makes the papers

There were at least four major protests this weekend targeting fracking, nuclear power, pollution, and mountaintop-removal mining. Here's a quiz: How many of these protests did you know about?

There was Saturday's banjo-festooned fracking protest in Washington, D.C. It was called "Stop the Frack Attack," and it called on politicians to stop the frack attack. Some estimates suggest that 5,000 people participated in the action; UPI asked a pro-fracking guy how many were there and he said that he heard 1,500 from a cop, so UPI went with 1,500.

Anti-fracking protestors march in Washington, D.C. (Photo by TXsharon.)

There were also protests in Japan and China. Earlier this month, some 100,000 people rallied in Tokyo to try and prevent a nuclear generator from being turned back on. Over the weekend, tens of thousands more marched outside of Parliament with the same aim: calling on the prime minister to halt the use of nuclear power. (There were no reports of banjos.)

Read more: Climate Change, Coal


Mountaintop-removal mining contaminated up to 22% of streams in southern West Va.

Here's an absolutely stunning look at the impact of mountaintop-removal mining on a section of southern West Virginia:

Decades of mountaintop-removal mining may have harmed aquatic life along more than 1,700 miles of streams in southern West Virginia, according to new research. Mining companies have converted 5% of the region to mountaintop mines. The resulting water pollution has caused so many sensitive species to vanish that 22% of streams may qualify as impaired under state criteria, the researchers report. ...

Using satellite images taken by NASA between 1976 and 2005, [lead author Emily] Bernhardt and her coauthors created maps of mountaintop mining in a 12,000-square-mile region of southern West Virginia. They found that companies had converted 5% of the land to mines during this period. ...

Bernhardt’s group found that salinity and mineral levels in the region’s streams increased with the total area of mountaintop mines. The researchers also found that as the number of mines increased, fewer sensitive insect species were detectable downstream.

Satellite view of the region. The light-colored area is actively being mined. (Photo by NASA.)
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Today in coal: Americans hate it, India hates it, Siberia hates it

A coal-powered electrical plant.

Three updates on the coal industry. If you can't be bothered to read the whole thing, here's a summary. Coal: Ugh.

Americans see more future in renewables.

A poll from Rasmussen Reports indicates that Americans see investment in renewables as a better plan than investment in fossil fuels like coal.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 55% say investing in renewable energy sources like solar and wind is a better long-term investment for the United States than investing in fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil. Thirty-six percent (36%) think fossil fuels are a better long-term investment.

What's particularly remarkable about this finding is that Rasmussen is often considered to be more friendly to conservative issues. In fact, Nate Silver, the Times' polling wunderkind, wrote that the firm's 2010 election polling was "biased and inaccurate," "overestimating the standing of the Republican candidate by almost 4 points on average." He goes on: "The discrepancies between Rasmussen Reports polls and those issued by other companies were apparent from virtually the first day that Barack Obama took office."

If Rasmussen says that Americans prefer renewables, then you can take that to the bank.

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Coal company changes its mind about sworn testimony, decides a big pile of coal ash outside is just fine

It seems like a decent bet that the Prairie State Energy Campus, a massive coal plant in southern Illinois that just started operation in June, is at the tail end of a long trend. There will be more coal plants, to be sure, but I'd be willing to bet there won't be many more at the scale of Prairie State. So it's only fitting that its debut be marked by broken promises and threats.

Coal ash, in its uncontained form, seen in Tennessee.

Midwest Energy News has the story. In 2005, while seeking a permit to begin construction, the company told the local zoning board that the tons of ash produced by burning coal would be shipped out of the county to permitted disposal sites. That was good enough for the county. Zoning variance granted.

About a month ago, shortly after the first generating unit went live, Prairie State Generating Company paid county officials another visit.

On June 26, the Washington County Board met behind closed doors with the lawyer from Prairie State and passed an amendment to an ordinance that granted the company permission to build a 720-acre coal ash landfill on flat farmland near the controversial Marissa, Illinois, plant.

The amendment allowed the company to bypass the normal zoning process, which would have involved public hearings, and negotiate a contract for the landfill with the county—all out of the public eye.

Why did the board agree?

“Our attorneys and powers that be told us there was a good chance if we did not negotiate they could go ahead and do it on their own,” he said. “So if we tried to fight, nothing would be gained other than a big bill over court fees.”

So did Prairie State actually threaten to sue Washington County if they failed to approve the landfill, and if so, on what grounds?

“That was never explained to me,” said Brent Schorfheide, another member of the Washington County Board. [Board member Gary] Suedmeyer said he was not at liberty to say because of the closed proceedings. And when asked that question, Prairie State spokeswoman Ashlie Kuehn responded, in an emailed statement, “no comment.”

Democracy in action.

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We’re ripping up our mountains to ship coal overseas. Maybe we shouldn’t?

America's use of coal to generate electricity is dropping dramatically. And yet coal production remains fairly constant.

Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of the Energy Information Administration.)

What gives? Who's using all of that coal? Is it being put into baby and/or puppy food?

No. A lot of it is going overseas.

As we reported earlier this week, American coal is partly responsible for China's huge increase in coal consumption. But that's just one part of the puzzle. Yesterday, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee released a report, "Our Pain, Their Gain: Mountains Destroyed for Coal Shipped Overseas" [PDF], that outlines the scale of America's coal exports.

Coal exports have nearly doubled since 2009 to 107 million tons last year, now accounting for almost 12 percent of U.S. production. Three out of every four tons that are exported come from the Appalachian region, and often this coal is produced by mountaintop removal mining -- a devastating practice that has blanketed communities with soot, contaminated drinking water, and destroyed 2,000 miles of streams.

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A tragicomic tale of coal industry incompetence and disregard

Let me share an remarkable story with you. It's about coal: the people it harms, the arrogance the industry has developed over years of being coddled, and the way it's all starting to fall apart.

Up to the northeast of Las Vegas, off of I-15, is the 48-year-old Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant, owned by NV Energy.

The Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant

It spews lead, smog, mercury, and carbon dioxide, but for our present purposes, let's focus on its gigantic ponds and piles of coal ash. Not only are they leaking chromium into the groundwater (see this report [PDF] for more on that), they blow great white clouds of coal ash across the community of Paiute Native Americans in the adjoining town of Moapa. Lots and lots of Moapa Paiutes are getting sick and dying. EPA is in the midst of considering whether to require expensive upgrades to the plant; the anti-coal movement is agitating to shut it down.

Anyway, that's the background. So last week, a local Las Vegas NBC affiliate decided to do a news report on it. Here reporter Reed Cowan presents the Paiutes' perspective, along with NV Energy's contention that the coal ash does contain arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals, but that it is "technically not toxic."

As you see at the end there, the intent was for this to be a two-part story, and for the second part to convey NV Energy's perspective. Watch what happened:

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GOP tries to block black-lung protections. Big Tobacco would be proud

House Republicans are trying to block efforts to protect coal miners from black lung disease. This comes just days after the Center for Public Integrity released a big report showing that black lung is making a comeback:

From 1968 through 2007, black lung caused or contributed to roughly 75,000 deaths in the United States, according to government data. In the decades following passage of the 1969 law [that first addressed black lung], rates of the disease dropped significantly. Then, in the late 1990s, this trend reversed.

Click to embiggen.

The Charleston Gazette explains how efforts to halt this trend are being stymied:

House Republicans are seeking to extend their measure that blocks the Obama administration from moving forward with a new rule aimed at combating the resurgence of deadly black lung disease, which experts say has reached epidemic proportions in the Appalachian coalfields. ...

If approved, the language would forbid [the Mine Safety and Health Administration] from using any funds from its budget to finalize its October 2010 proposal to tighten legal coal-dust limits and improve other protections for miners.

"House Republicans' proposal to stop modern protections against black lung disease for our nation's miners is outrageous and should be defeated," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said the budget measure "amounts to nothing more than a potential death sentence for thousands of American miners."

"Preventing black lung isn't a matter of overregulation," Roberts said. "It's a matter of life and death."

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China’s per-person carbon emissions rival Europe’s, but U.S. is still on top

CO2 seeds.

From The Guardian:

The average Chinese person's carbon footprint is now almost on a par with the average European's, figures released on Wednesday reveal.

... [T]oday's report by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) show that per capita emissions in China increased by 9% in 2011 to reach 7.2 tonnes per person, only a fraction lower than the EU average of 7.5 tonnes.

The population of Europe is 595 million. The population of China is 1.35 billion. In otherwords, China emits 9.75 billion tons of CO2 to Europe's 4.46 billion. Less per person, but far more overall.

Read more: Climate Change, Coal


Teenage Afghan whistleblower has a lot to teach us about mine safety

The footage above was captured by a teenager in Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal:

Children as young as 10 toil in illegal mines, often for 12 hours a day, activists say. Afghan officials agree the problem is stubborn despite recent efforts. The boys represent a thorny obstacle to the nation's push to transform its antiquated mining industry into a modern economic engine. …

"I saw some children working there loading and unloading donkeys," said Khalilulla ... "All the people working there are extremely poor and don't have any other job to feed their families except working in the mines."

By Afghan government estimates, as many as a third of the nation's children—more than 4 million—take part in some sort of work, from picking fruit to mining coal. U.N. officials estimate about 18% of Afghan children work—1.4 million between the ages of 6 and 15.

The United States banned child labor in 1938. Not as long ago as one might assume, but still two generations. Child labor is illegal in Afghanistan -- but so was the mine in the footage.

Read more: Coal