The essay below was written by Steve Fleischli and Scott Edwards of Waterkeeper Alliance.
Right now the coal industry is engaged in a multi-million-dollar campaign propagating the lie that coal and so-called clean-coal technology are the answer to America’s future energy needs. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is no such thing as clean coal.
Waterkeeper programs in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and West Virginia have been fighting the coal industry for years. Now, they have joined together with the nearly 200 programs of Waterkeeper Alliance in a grassroots campaign called “The Dirty Lie” — because none of us can afford to wait another minute to start creating a new national energy policy that frees us from a reliance on fossil fuels.
You don’t have to live in the coal fields or in the shadow of a coal-fired power plant to be affected by this filthy industry — coal causes acid rain, pollutes our water and food chain with mercury, and is grossly accelerating climate change. From mining it to the disposal of ash after it’s burned, there is no part of the coal industry that is good for the environment, good for people, or good for America.
Every year, the 1,100 coal-fired power plants in America spew 48 tons of toxic mercury into our air, poisoning hundreds of square miles of rivers, lakes and streams, accumulating in fish, and entering our bodies through fish consumption.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one of every six women of childbearing age now has unsafe mercury levels in her blood and, potentially, breast milk, putting more than 410,000 American children born each year at high risk for neurological damage and a grim inventory of illnesses.
And while coal-fired power plants generate about half of America’s electricity, they contribute 80 percent of the total greenhouse gases from electricity production that cause global warming. Yet, even if carbon capture and sequestration technology existed to remove these emissions, it still wouldn’t make coal clean.
From cradle to grave, coal is inherently filthy. Coal mining, no matter how it’s done, devastates the environment and communities. Toxins from coal-fired power plants are spewed into our air and leach into our water, causing asthma, cancer and over 24,000 premature deaths each year. And just recently, in Tennessee, we all saw the catastrophic effects from the failure of one coal-ash impoundment on surrounding watersheds and communities.
The coal industry also is responsible for the destruction of mountains, forests and streams throughout Appalachia, where mountaintop removal is poisoning water supplies, devastating hundreds of square miles of North America’s most ancient and biologically diverse hardwood forests, and permanently impoverishing local communities.
At the current pace, the coal industry will have decimated a piece of Appalachia the size of Delaware — more than 1.4 million acres — by the end of the next decade. Imagine if instead of cutting down one more mountain or burying one more stream to support our coal addiction we instead installed solar panels on a fraction of our homes.
Yes, even harnessing renewable energy has some impact, but it isn’t the endless litany of harm that mining coal creates. Renewable energy is a gift that keeps on giving. A pile of coal is burned and only gives back polluted water, contaminated fish and tainted land.
The truth is that with responsible leadership and investment in clean, renewable sources of energy, coal is replaceable; the Appalachian Mountains and the people that live there aren’t. A national energy policy that continues to rely on fossil fuels endangers our health, environment, economic prosperity and national security. Renewable-energy technologies that can meet America’s energy needs are already available.
Putting an end to the dirty lie that coal can be the foundation of America’s energy future is a critically important first step on the path to developing a new energy policy that stops global warming, protects our environment, and promotes energy efficiency and a sustainable energy future. Visit www.thedirtylie.com and help spread the word.
Fleischli is president of the alliance, while Edwards serves as the group’s legal director.