I find it horrendous that we continue to rely upon coal as a primary energy resource. Here in Kentucky, a major coal producing state, those who protest dirty power plants and the state’s reliance on coal are treated as alarmists, if not environmental extremists, who will take away jobs and inflate energy prices for consumers. As such, they constitute “an attack on Kentucky’s way of life” (D-Keith Hall). Kentucky, by the way, subsidizes coal to the tune of $115 million annually.
In Kentucky, coal is king and a driving political force as shown in the $40,000 contribution the industry has made to Andy Barr’s renewed efforts to unseat 6th District Congressman, Ben Chandler. Lexington, the heart of the district, just happens to be the home of the Kentucky Coal Association and several mining companies.
One of coal’s biggest friends in the state is the University of Kentucky, which recently accepted $20 million from coal interests to build a lodge facility for its basketball players. Money, in short, has defined the issue for the University, not public health or global warming. The University even has a Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. The University might learn a thing or two from many of its students who have called for transitioning its power plant to a more efficient energy source.
One Kentuckian, noted author Wendell Berry, stood tall in all of this, resigning his teaching position at the University and taking his papers with him, which he has donated this week to the Kentucky Historical Association. I wish there were more like him.
All of this reminds me of the days in Kentucky when tobacco was also a power broker, with government and higher education aligned with its interests. Despite evidence slapping one in the face, for years they denied tobacco’s heavy toll on the public’s health.
Coal won’t be losing its clout anytime soon, at least in Kentucky, given the just announced $7 billion deal made with India for 9 million tons of Kentucky and West Virginia coal, a deal principally involving a Kentucky lawmaker from Pike County, D-Rep Keith Hall. Like many developers, coal advocates often seek elective office to further their business interests. Hall sits on the board of FJCS Energy, the New Jersey company that signed the agreement.
While the U. S. as a whole is making its slow transition to cleaner fuels, the coal company again resembles the tobacco industry in its emphasis on exports to shore up its sagging profits at home. The hell with what happens to the health of those in developing nations.
Worse, is the industry’s blatant indifference to global warming and its consequences to all life. What matters is profit. How many more mountains will be leveled and how many streams contaminated? How many toxins belched into the atmosphere?
As they have it, coal is very much a part of our future. Land reclamation has brought benefits such as creation of new forests, recreational areas, housing development, and facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, and even airports. It’s cheaper to store coal than alternative fuels such as wind or solar, geothermal or nuclear. New technology has improved the efficiency of coal fired power plants in reducing carbon emissions. Alternative sources, moreover, can’t keep pace with projections of a future doubling of worldwide energy needs. As is, coal is one of the most regulated industries, providing the public with ample protection.
The real story is that we’ve seen 300 mountaintops leveled, 600,000 acres of hardwood forests permanently decimated. As for reclamation, only 4% of any post-mining productivity has been confirmed (EcoWatch). Mining violations and watershed violations are in the thousands, with little state enforcement. Instead of the promise of diversification to remedy Appalachia’s enmeshed poverty, the region faces a future of moving to the forefront in black lung disease and no appreciable amelioration in chronic unemployment, where 60% of mining jobs have been lost to mechanization, not EPA regulation.
Meanwhile, the National Resources Defense Council recently designated Kentucky as the most polluted state in the nation from coal field fuel plants, largely because of the state government’s failure to clean-up the industry. As with Keith Hall, Kentucky government continues to be dominated by coal interests. Hall, by the way, is co- chair of the National Resources and Environment Committee. He has said, “I ‘m not just a friend of coal, I’m coal’s best friend.”
As Hall puts it, “I believe in states’ rights.” Me thinks we’ve heard all this before and that the Confederacy is alive and well. As with slavery, tobacco, and now coal, Kentucky needs to disengage from an economy that exacts profits from human misery.
Instead of the ubiquitous Friends of Coal bumper stickers, Kentucky would do better with say, Friends of People replacements, and in green, not black, the color of death.