Monday, September 12, 2011
The announcement on Tuesday, August 30, that a coal-fired power plant on the Potomac River near Alexandria, Virginia, would soon be closed was another victory in the ongoing campaign by many environmentalists to move the world into the renewable energy era. This campaign includes making sure no new coal-fired power plants are built, existing plants are closed, and renewable energy is promoted.
Coal is the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, destabilizing our climate and contributing to environmental pollution. In the United States alone 13,200 lives are lost each year due to air pollution from burning coal. If deaths from black lung disease among coal miners are included, the number climbs even higher. In addition, the health care costs to society of burning coal are currently estimated at more than $100 billion per year, roughly $300 for every person in the United States or $1,200 for a family of four. These costs are real, but it is the American people, not the coal companies, who shoulder the burden.
The efforts to stabilize climate will be won or lost with coal. Fortunately, several environmental groups are leading the charge against coal: the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, and Earthjustice.
The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign has successfully stopped over 150 coal plants in the United States from being built. They are now working to keep new coal plants from being built and to shut down existing coal-fired power plants. Already 71 plants are scheduled for total or partial closure, most of them by 2016.
Friends of the Earth has a number of campaigns around the world. They are working to protect communities from toxic coal ash, end mountain top removal, get the World Bank to stop funding coal projects, put existing mining protections into action, eliminate dirty coal subsidies, halt the development of liquid coal, and expose false solutions like carbon capture and sequestration.
Greenpeace USA has now taken a step further with its Quit Coal campaign. Organizing its vast community of activists into an online network, it has focused community efforts to shut down coal plants in the United States. In doing so, Greenpeace has made it easier for people to reach out and organize in their own communities to make the change that is necessary to cut carbon emissions in the world’s leading industrial economy.
Rainforest Action Network (RAN) is going after the banking sector to get them to cut financing of new and existing coal plants and to fund clean energy projects such as wind and solar. In August 2010, RAN announced that several leading U.S. investment banks, including Bank of America and J.P. Morgan, had ceased lending to companies involved in mountaintop removal coal mining.
Earthjustice provides vital legal representation, often free, to environmental groups to “even the odds against powerful special interests and to hold accountable those who jeopardize the health of the planet.” It works to preserve our natural heritage, to promote clean energy, and to safeguard our health.
The fossil fuel industry, however, is not going down easily. They are pumping billions of dollars into their own campaigns to discredit the science of climate change and to lobby Congress to eliminate pollution laws and controls.
Pushing back against this tide is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who on July 21, announced that he was contributing $50 million to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. This action by Bloomberg, one of the most successful business entrepreneurs of his generation, demonstrates a strong commitment to providing a healthy future for everyone.
Here are some links if you would like more information on what we’ve written on closing coal plants.
- U.S. Moving Toward Ban on New Coal-Fired Power Plants
- The Beginning of the End for Coal: A Long Year in the Life of the U.S. Coal Industry
- A Fifty Million Dollar Tipping Point?
- Chapter 8: Building an Energy Efficient Economy, from World on the Edge
Coal is not the only energy source being protested in the United States. The newly US State Department-endorsed Keystone XL pipeline created a strong wave of protests in Washington, DC in August spearheaded by 350.org and the Tar Sand Action Group. Over 1,200 people were arrested during this protest, notably James Hansen, Bill McKibben, and Phil Radford from the environmental community, as well as Daryl Hannah, an actress who is known to speak out on environmental issues. The Dalai Lama and other notables have also joined in opposition to this project.
It is up to each of us to become involved in these efforts to close coal-fired power plants and to help the United States become a world leader in stabilizing climate.
Reah Janise Kauffman
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