Yes, We've Declared War On Coal -- Because It's Killing Us!

Coal kills

  • 670,000 smog-related deaths a year: the cost of China's reliance on coal: Smog killed 670,000 people in 2012, says mainland study on pollution. "Damage to the environment and health added up to 260 yuan (HK$330) for each tonne produced and used in 2012, said Teng Fei , an associate professor at Tsinghua University. The 260 yuan is made up of two parts: the health cost and the environmental damage caused by mining and transporting coal." (I just checked and the HK$ is worth .13US$ at the moment — so it's about $43/tonne. So much for "cheap coal": adding this cost to the direct cost of coal — see the graphic at the bottom of the page — would almost double the price of coal. So the externalized costs, added to the direct costs, would make coal far more expensive than solar or wind.)
  • Indian coal power plants kill 120,000 people a year, says Greenpeace: Environmental group's report on pollution in the country warns emissions may cause 20m new asthma cases a year.
  • Former Coal CEO Don Blankenship Pleads Not Guilty In Deadly Mine Accident
    • The indictment of a former coal mining CEO over safety violations Thursday sent a “strong message,” said the United Mine Workers of America. Don Blankenship faces four criminal counts and up to 31 years in prison for alleged safety violations at mines operated by Massey Energy, which he headed from 2000 until his retirement in 2010.
    • "The carnage that was a recurring nightmare at Massey mines during Blankenship’s tenure at the head of that company was unmatched. No other company had even half as many fatalities during that time,” said United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts. (source)
  • Redevelopment ahead for Chicago's two coal plant sites: When Chicago's last two coal plants shut down two years ago, residents who had lived amid the plants' pollution were still angry.
    • "You killed my mother," one woman told the president of Midwest Generation, the coal plants' owner, at a hearing to determine how to redevelop the sites.
    • Residents in Pilsen and Little Village told Midwest Generation they wanted the long reviled plants razed and their combined 115 acres transformed to benefit the communities — a form of restitution, some said, for pollution a Harvard study in 2000 linked to 41 premature deaths per year. The company agreed.
    • Pilsen and Little Village have been waiting ever since. Midwest Generation filed for bankruptcy and another firm took over the sites in March. Now it looks like plans are finally moving forward.

Coal's other health-related impacts

  • Spills of toxic coal "products" are legion in coal's backyard of Appalachia:
    • There's the absolutely "historic", like the Martin County coal slurry spill in October, 2000 that was 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez, and dumped toxic sludge over a wide swath of Kentucky. The investigation of the spill met with "political interference, whistleblower retaliation, and lack of transparency at the Mine Safety and Health Administration", as disclosed by the Union of Concerned Scientists).
    • The TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill was another epic spill of recent times (2009). Get this: "The TVA spill was 100 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, which released 10.9 million gallons of crude oil. Cleanup was expected to take weeks and cost tens of millions of dollars." A new record!
    • Then there's "just another year" in the life of coal's toxic attack upon America (same in China, Australia, etc.):
      • January, 2014: West Virginia had its water supply poisoned by "Freedom Industries" (what a fabulously ironic name for a group relatively free to poison Americans — with some consequences, thankfully: FBI Files Charges Against President Of Company Behind West Virginia Chemical Spill — more at Think Progress)
      • February, 2014: Spill spews tons of coal ash into North Carolina river: The coal ash poured out of a broken pipe into the Dan River, turning water into dark muck.
        • It took nearly a week to stem the spill, which sent millions of gallons of sludge from a retired power plant into a river that supplies drinking water to communities in North Carolina and neighboring Virginia.
        • Tests of the river last week revealed levels of copper, aluminum, iron and arsenic above state standards for surface water, state environmental officials said.
      • June, 2014: a story of how Florida, Kentucky Rivers Poisoned by Coal Ash
        • "{Louisville Gas & Electric}’s own sampling of its Mill Creek coal ash dump found mercury levels in 2007 that were 20 times Kentucky’s human health standards."
        • 'The Environmental Protection Agency previously classified the coal ash pond as being "high hazard," meaning a failure of the ash pond dam would probably cause a loss of human life and significant environmental damage.'
        • In Florida, pollution is "…leaking out of unlined coal ash pits at Gulf Power Company’s Scholz Generating Plant near Sneads, Florida.<p>The coal ash pits are contaminating the water with arsenic, cadmium, and chromium—all well-known carcinogens—as well as aluminum, barium, beryllium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc, selenium and mercury. One test, in June 2013, found that arsenic levels coming out of the unlined pits were 300 times the amount considered safe for drinking water."
      • June, 2014: Another Coal Chemical Spill Pollutes Public Waterway, This Time in Kentucky
  • Alpha violating water pollution limits, judge rules: A federal judge has ruled that Alpha Natural Resources is illegally discharging excess levels of toxic selenium from a Raleigh County coal-slurry impoundment, in a case that illustrates a potentially major flaw in a U.S. government pollution settlement with the coal giant.
  • It's not that this is all brand new info to the industry, as one can see from this article in the International Journal of Coal Geology (May, 2002): Health impacts of coal and coal use: possible solutions — Coal will be a dominant energy source in both developed and developing countries for at least the first half of the 21st century. Environmental problems associated with coal, before mining, during mining, in storage, during combustion, and postcombustion waste products are well known and are being addressed by ongoing research. The connection between potential environmental problems with human health is a fairly new field and requires the cooperation of both the geoscience and medical disciplines. Three research programs that illustrate this collaboration are described and used to present a range of human health problems that are potentially caused by coal. Domestic combustion of coal in China has, in some cases, severely affected human health. Both on a local and regional scale, human health has been adversely affected by coals containing arsenic, fluorine, selenium, and possibly, mercury. Balkan endemic nephropathy (BEN), an irreversible kidney disease of unknown origin, has been related to the proximity of Pliocene lignite deposits. The working hypothesis is that groundwater is leaching toxic organic compounds as it passes through the lignites and that these organics are then ingested by the local population contributing to this health problem. Human disease associated with coal mining mainly results from inhalation of particulate matter during the mining process. The disease is Coal Worker's Pneumoconiosis characterized by coal dust-induced lesions in the gas exchange regions of the lung; the coal worker's “black lung disease”.
  • China’s coal addiction brings scourge of black lung: China’s diagnoses of pneumoconiosis have risen sevenfold from 2005 to 2013 to about 750,000, at an average pace of 35 per cent annually, according to official data. That is likely to be an underestimate. Watchdog groups say 90 per cent of China’s coal miners lack labour contracts and so don’t qualify for inclusion in official health surveys. That would indicate that black-lung sufferers number closer to six million, said Wang Keqin, founder of Love Save Pneumoconiosis. Hong Kong-based watchdog China Labour Bulletin agrees with the estimate.
  • Coal's black wind: Pregnant women in parts of India advised to stay away: The poor pay the highest cost of India’s dependence on coal, said Jennifer Wang of the nonprofit group Health Care Without Harm. Already burdened by chronic disease, poor nutrition and inadequate health care, they also are highly exposed to air and water pollution, she said.Coal poses health risks in India at all stages – mining, transportation, storage and use:
    • In Jharia, famous for its rich coal resources, 700,000 people are exposed to toxic smoke that seeps from the ground as fires from opencast coalmines burn around the clock. Residents suffer from asthma, chronic bronchitis and skin problems.
    • In Gujarat, on the west coast, fish catches plummeted after the construction of a massive 4,800-megawatt coal plant destroyed mangrove and creek ecosystems by discharging polluted water in the sensitive ecosystem.
    • Mercury-laced ash from five mega power plants in the Singrauli district in central India is stored in piles five feet thick, polluting air, water and soil.
    • In Mettur, in southern India, a coal yard where fuel is shipped in by rail and stored for a power plant and factories stands just 100 feet from some homes. Coal dust blows from the yard into neighboring communities. Air pollution levels are high.
  • Breathless and Burdened: This yearlong investigation examines how doctors and lawyers, working at the behest of the coal industry, have helped defeat the benefits claims of (US) miners sick and dying of black lung, even as disease rates are on the rise and an increasing number of miners are turning to a system that was supposed to help alleviate their suffering.

Coal is the climate's worst enemy

  • Leave coal in the ground to avoid climate catastrophe, UN tells industry: "By now it should be abundantly clear that further capital expenditures on coal can go ahead only if they are compatible with the 2C limit", (Christiana Figueres) said at the international coal and climate summit in Warsaw, being held at the same time as UN climate talks.
  • Retired NASA scientist James Hansen tells us that “coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet.” Sea level rises due to melting ice sheets, Hansen says, hang “like the sword of Damocles over our children and grandchildren.” (source)
  • Finally, Neil deGrasse Tyson and ``Cosmos'' take on climate change: So begins Tyson's climate dirge:
    • We just can't seem to stop burning up all those buried trees from way back in the carboniferous age, in the form of coal, and the remains of ancient plankton, in the form of oil and gas. If we could, we'd be home free climate wise. Instead, we're dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the Earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past, the ones that led to mass extinctions. We just can't seem to break our addiction to the kinds of fuel that will bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs, a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves. All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need. Why can't we summon the ingenuity and courage of the generations that came before us? The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming. What's our excuse?

Coal is using poverty to promote itself

Who's using coal?

  • We are! Slowdown in Carbon Emissions Worldwide, but Coal Burning Continues to Grow
  • Coal demand set to break 9bn tonne barrier this decade: Environmentalists warn of ‘very dangerous development’ after Lima climate summit fails to agree on greenhouse gas emissions curbs; The IEA predicts that global coal demand will grow at an average rate of 2.1% per year through 2019. This is less than last year’s forecast of 2.3% – and the actual growth rate of 3.3% per year between 2010 and 2013.
  • Poor people use coal! Hey, thanks coal — for keeping the lights on! (and the smog deaths up, but heh….) World's Biggest Coal Company, World's Biggest PR Firm Pair Up To Promote Coal For Poor People: Peabody's proposal to solve this crisis? Asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop setting pollution limits on coal-fired power plants. Those pollution rules are meant to address climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions, a global problem that has the greatest effect on poor countries. Burning coal generates carbon emissions as well as hazardous pollutants such as mercury, lead, and benzene, according to the American Lung Association.
  • Harvard and Brown Universities! Harvard and Brown Fail on Climate: Why university presidents Drew Gilpin Faust and Christina Paxson were wrong to reject calls to divest from fossil fuel companies.
  • Coal keeps the lights on, they say, but those lights aren't illuminating Walmart operations over on the dark side: Walmart is a huge consumer of dirty coal energy. (Do they mention that "Coal keeps the streams toxic", and "Coal keeps the lungs black", and all that other stuff?)
  • Nordea divests coal shares – a canary in the coal mine?: One of the Nordic region’s biggest banks is pulling out of investments in coal. Though the sums involved are tiny compared to its overall holdings, the move could signal a broader shift in the Nordic market, says Aalto University's professor of corporate responsibility.

Who's not using coal?

  • Ontario shuns coal; will other provinces follow?
  • Pivoting the Climate Debate from Oil to Coal:
    • Even if they don’t fully accept or understand the science on climate change, G.O.P. leaders do grasp the logic of the market. In places like Kentucky, coal is a risky long-term proposition, which brings us back to Mitch McConnell. McConnell is many things, but he understands how to limit political risk. Despite his own “war on coal” rhetoric, a look at his campaign contributors suggests that he knows where the future of energy lies. Prior to the midterms, McConnell was deluged with cash from half a dozen major natural-gas producers. They’re the ones—much more than Obama and the E.P.A.—who are engaged in a war on coal. And they’re winning.
  • RIP FutureGen: Energy Department Kills Troubled Bush-Era Coal Electricity Project: A 12-year-old vision for a public-private partnership to create an advanced, climate-friendly coal-fired power plant has come to an apparent end.

Coal's Clout

  • Coal's Clout Endures in Washington Even as Jobs Decline: Since 1989, the coal industry has donated $23.9 million to candidates for U.S. House and Senate seats, 80 percent of that to Republicans, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
    • Still, the industry's influence in the climate debate has frustrated the retiring senator whose seat Tennant is seeking: Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who often votes with the industry.
    • A year before he announced his retirement, Rockefeller made blistering remarks about coal in a June 2012 Senate floor speech as the chamber debated rules to slash toxic emissions from the oldest and most polluting power plants in the country. He took on coal-industry lobbyists who were spending millions of dollars to accuse Obama of engaging in a “war on coal.”
    • “The reality is that many who run the coal industry today would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions,” he said, calling on the industry to embrace a lower-carbon economy. “Scare tactics are a cynical waste of time, money and, worst of all, coal miners' hopes.”
  • The climate is changing, but don't expect confirmation from W.Va. pols: The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem.
  • Among scientists, there is virtually no debate: The earth's climate is changing, and human activity, specifically burning fossil fuels, is causing those changes.
    • In West Virginia, where coal dominates political conversation and plays a big role in the economy, it's more complicated, and politicians are reluctant to even say there is a problem.
    • A majority of West Virginia's political leaders either declined to respond or gave evasive answers when recently asked a yes-or-no question, whether they thought human actions were causing climate change.
  • Though Not Quietly, Kentucky Moves to Cut Reliance on Coal: Here in coal country, the reaction from politicians and the coal industry to President Obama's climate plan has been swift and close to apocalyptic.
    • Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, called the proposed rule “a dagger in the heart of the American middle class.” His Democratic opponent in a fierce Senate race this year, Alison Lundergan Grimes, matched his outrage, accusing the president of “targeting Kentucky coal with pie-in-the-sky regulations that are impossible to achieve.”

The Skinny on Coal

  • Coal Facts (2008)
  • Read "Big Coal", by Jeff Goodell
  • Green groups sue over coal lease: BILLINGS, Mont. - Conservation groups sued the government Tuesday to force officials to undertake their first broad review of the federal coal-leasing program in decades and consider how burning the fuel contributes to climate change.
    • The lawsuit by Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils is being paid for by the philanthropic foundation of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
    • The plaintiffs in the case said there has not been a comprehensive review of the government's coal program since 1979. That was before climate-changing greenhouse gases produced by burning coal emerged as a significant public concern.
    • More than 40 percent of the roughly one billion tons of coal that is mined annually in the United States comes from beneath federal lands in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Montana, and other Western states. About 475,000 acres were leased out to companies through the end of 2013.
    • The coal industry has defended the federal leasing program, which in 2012 brought in $876 million in royalties and almost $1.6 billion in bonus payments on lease sales, according to the Interior Department.
    • Plaintiffs' attorney Richard Ayres said he expects the government to seek to dismiss Tuesday's lawsuit before it can be decided on the merits. Otherwise, Ayres said, "they're going to be in an extremely awkward position, because they can't argue the things we're saying about global warming aren't true."
    • The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been reviewing its coal-leasing program since a government investigation last year revealed officials accepted below-market bids in some coal sales. Bureau of Land Management spokesman Jeff Krauss declined to comment on the lawsuit.
    • A representative of Allen's foundation said in a statement that the Microsoft cofounder was supporting the lawsuit because the bureau has not responsibly managed its coal program.
    • "We can't wait three more decades to understand the environmental impact of the federal coal leasing program," said Dune Ives, comanager of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
  • Losing Streak Continues for U.S. Coal Export Terminals: Grassroots campaigns keep 'coal on its heels' as major carbon source loses its economic appeal.
  • Coal is dying all by itself: While Obama’s tenure will probably speed up the country’s transition to cleaner energy, the scales had already tipped against coal long before he took office. Kentucky’s coal production peaked in 1990, and coal industry employment peaked all the way back in the 1920s. The scales won’t tip back after he leaves. The “war on coal” narrative isn’t simply misleading, it also distracts from the very real problem of how to prepare coal mining communities and energy consumers (i.e., everyone) for an approaching future in which coal is demoted to a bit role after a century at center stage.

A Coal Storybook Ending

Jeff Kisling and his band of merry youngsters provided the following tale after a Sunday session, envisioning a better future. It's called

Coal Company

A man starts a coal company. He gets rich. One day he visits a facility and is horror-struck. What he sees is empty, barren land. It is the most terrible thing he has ever seen. He immediately closes down all of his mining facilities. He replaces the facilities with large public gardens. One day he visits where the facilities used to be. He sees the beauty, stillness, and peace.

And he is happy.

ael: All I can add to this story is "Amen!"

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