Posted by: greeningwashington | February 19, 2009

King of the Mountaintop

Kayford Mountain, W.Va

Kayford Mountain, W.Va









Clean coal doesn’t exist, period.

Remember the incident last December, during which a retaining wall of an ash pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant deteriorated and poured 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into rivers and streams destroying local drinking water sources? According to the New York Times, the amount spilled was enough to “flood more than 3,000 acres one foot deep.”  

I am sure the residents were reassured when TVA officials, who hadn’t tested the polluted water or soil, stated that coal ash is not harmful — forgetting the fact that coal ash can contain heavy metals and carcinogens (you know the things the government deemed harmful in cigarettes).

Coal is filthy, toxic, and destructive. No matter how many spin-doctors try to revive its image, it will forever remain tainted. 

By the way, have you ever seen what a coal miner’s lung looks like after years of working in a coal mine? I recently visited the Body Worlds exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and that happened to be one of the exhibits on display.

According to the EIA, approximately 92 percent of the coal produced in America is used to generate American’s electricity, and half of all electricity in America is generated by coal. You can take steps to reduce your electricity use by (i) replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, (ii) unplugging cords from electrical sockets when not in use, (iii) keep your air conditioner off, etc. (trust me, if I could, I would have my own solar panels, but I am just a poor college student). However, these small steps mean nothing without a comprehensive strategy to change energy production and consumption. 

Despite President Obama’s reversal of past energy policies, and his appointment of Dr. Chu — the first Secretary of Energy to be a practicing scientist and to hold a PhD, the cheap and dirty practices of coal remain intact.

The extraction of coal is primitive and the storage of the toxic waste is even more so. The coal ash that was spilled in the Tennessee incident came from unlined holding lakes.  Again, sadly, the argument is simplified in terms of costs — as it costs more to take precautionary measures to ensure incidents like this don’t happen. Have we really gotten to the place where profits outweigh moral obligations? I don’t think St. Peter accepts cash, credit, or checks.

 I am sure, however, that the President and CEO of the TVA, Tom Kilgore, resides miles away from the spill. This toxic incident was, of course, after the October 2008 TVA authorization of an executive compensation package which would allow Mr. Kilgore to earn up to $3.27 million in the current fiscal year. Hmmm. I have started to form a very unpleasant image of top executives.  What do they do besides swindle money, purchase office furniture with company funds and play golf? Oh yeah, and visit Congress to beg for money once their poor business model has failed (hint the undertone of sarcasm and jest please).

I digress.

Coal won big this month when a federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling that restricted the widely used coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The two-year-old decision by Judge Robert Chambers of the Southern District of West Virginia was overturned by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia. Chambers had ruled that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers had violated the Clean Water Act by issuing certain permits for coal mines. The permits were four subsidiaries of Massey Energy Co., which uses mountaintop removal extensively in that region.

Essentially, the Corps of Engineers refused to decide on the permits on where to dump the materials and instead, the coal companies had been letting the mountaintop debris slide into rivers and streams smothering ecosystems. The Corp of Engineers has a duty to keep in mind the Clean Water Act when issuing permits and, when possible, mitigate stream destruction. Hopefully, some of the Stimulus funds will go toward hiring new U.S. Army Corp staff.

Returning to coal, over 100 applications for new coal plants were filed during the Bush Administration; however, the EPA, under the direction of Lisa Jackson, will most certainly reconsider the “no need to regulate” policy concerning CO2 emissions in these plants. Yet, the EPA still must take a strong stance on global warming and greenhouse gas output, in addition to ramping up regulations in order to truly effectuate change. 

Until next time.

P.S. WordPress is not letting me add my links for some reason. I will add them tomorrow. Sorry!


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