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Coal Comfort – Margaret Palmer
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Last night on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert hosted scientist Margaret Palmer in a brilliant takedown of the Obama administration’s recent decision to green light more mountaintop removal permits, in light of a blockbuster new scientific study that concluded that “mining permits are being issued despite the preponderance of scientific evidence that impacts are pervasive and irreversible and that mitigation cannot compensate for losses.”

Those losses include American citizens, namely residents living in some of the most historic areas of Appalachia — the “hillbilly” region that gave our nation our first Declaration of Independence in 1772, our first abolitionist newspaper, the vanguard of the labor movement, gave birth to muckraking journalism in the 1830s, and the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature … among other achievements.

Colbert captured the Coal River Mountain motto: Save the endangered hillbilly.

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Dr. Palmer pointed out the poisonous environmental consequences of mountaintop removal mining on the region’s watersheds and streams, as well the devastating impact of stripmining on eliminating jobs in the local economy.

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Meanwhile, an extraordinary new study was released today by Downstream Strategies that sounds the alarm on Appalachia’s declining coal industry and the economic imperative to launch a clean energy alternative:

“According to the report, Central Appalachian coal production is projected to fall by nearly 50 percent within the next ten years. Central Appalachia includes the coal-producing counties in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia, and eastern Tennessee

The report points to renewable energy and energy efficiency as two sectors where new jobs and tax revenues can be created, as the region has a wealth of clean energy resources. The report concludes that losses related to the decline of the coal industry can be recaptured by gains from wind, solar, low-impact hydro, and sustainable biomass production, and from a strong focus on energy efficiency improvements.

To support the diversification of the regional energy economy, the report outlines a series of policy instruments, including requiring each state to provide 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources; the provision of grants, tax credits, clean energy bonds, or low-interest loans to support renewable energy development and manufacturing; the implementation and strengthening of net metering laws; and the development of workforce programs aimed at providing the skills and knowledge required for renewable energy industries. The study also argues for strong incentives for local ownership of energy development, to help maximize the local economic benefits of renewable energy projects.

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“Given that coal production is projected to decline significantly in the coming decades, diversification of Central Appalachian economies is now more critical than ever,” said co-author Evan Hansen, President of Downstream Strategies. “State leaders should use this legislative session to increase support for new economic development across the region, especially in the rural areas set to be the most impacted by a sharp decline in the region’s coal economy.”