Front Porch Blog

Jeff Biggers Takes “Clean Coal” to the Cleaners

An important editorial this Sunday in the Washington Post, by celebrated author Jeff Biggers, who is emerging as one of our leading national voices about the injustices of mountaintop removal.

Clean Coal? Don’t Try to Shovel that.

Every time I hear our political leaders talk about “clean coal,” I think about Burl, an irascible old coal miner in West Virginia. After 35 years underground, he struggled to conjure enough breath to match his storytelling verve, as if the iron hoops of a whiskey barrel had been strapped around his lungs. In 1983, during my first visit to Appalachia as a young man, Burl rolled up his pants and showed me the leg that had been mangled in a mining accident. The scars snaked down to his ankles.

“My grandpa barely survived an accident in the mines in southern Illinois,” I told him. “He had these blue marks and bits of coal buried in his face.”

“Coal tattoo,” Burl wheezed. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that coal is clean.”

Mr. Biggers absolutely skewers the politicians, and willfully ignorant environmentalists who continue to support “clean coal.”

Orwellian language has led to Orwellian politics. With the imaginary vocabulary of “clean coal,” too many Democrats and Republicans, as well as a surprising number of environmentalists, have forgotten the dirty realities of extracting coal from the earth. Pummeled by warnings that global warming is triggering the apocalypse, Americans have fallen for the ruse of futuristic science that is clean coal. And in the meantime, swaths of the country are being destroyed before our eyes.

Here’s the hog-killing reality that a coal miner like Burl or my grandfather knew firsthand: No matter how “cap ‘n trade” schemes pan out in the distant future for coal-fired plants, strip mining and underground coal mining remain the dirtiest and most destructive ways of making energy.

Coal ain’t clean. Coal is deadly.

More than 104,000 miners in America have died in coal mines since 1900. Twice as many have died from black lung disease. Dangerous pollutants, including mercury, filter into our air and water. The injuries and deaths caused by overburdened coal trucks are innumerable. Yet even on the heels of a recent report revealing that in the last six years the Mine Safety and Health Administration decided not to assess fines for more than 4,000 violations, Bush administration officials have called for cutting mine-safety funds by 6.5 percent. Have they already forgotten the coal miners who were entombed underground in Utah last summer?

Above ground, millions of acres across 36 states have been dynamited, torn and churned into bits by strip mining in the last 150 years. More than 60 percent of all coal mined in the United States today, in fact, comes from strip mines.

In the “United States of Coal,” Appalachia has become the poster child for strip mining’s worst depravations, which come in the form of mountaintop removal. An estimated 750,000 to 1 million acres of hardwood forests, a thousand miles of waterways and more than 470 mountains and their surrounding communities — an area the size of Delaware — have been erased from the southeastern mountain range in the last two decades. Thousands of tons of explosives — the equivalent of several Hiroshima atomic bombs — are set off in Appalachian communities every year.

How can anyone call this clean?

Read the rest here, and tell your legislators to stop using the misnomer of “clean coal.”

TAGS:

PREVIOUS

NEXT

AV-mountainBorder-tan-medium1

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Comment