Those of us who believed we’d see substantial change in U.S. energy policy under the Obama administration were severely disappointed this week when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced an enormous expansion in coal mining and four new permits for deepwater offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The increased coal production could cause U.S. climate pollution to rise by more than 50 percent, Glenn Hurowitz, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, writes in Grist.
The announcement clears the way for more than 300,000 megawatts of coal-fired energy—substantially more than the 4,000 megawatts of renewable energy development the Obama administration authorized in 2010. Salazar also announced that the administration intends to authorize more than 12,000 megawatts of renewable energy by the end of next year—a move that Hurowitz describes as “effectively using modest wind and solar investments as cover for a broader embrace of dirty fuels.”
Last month, a Harvard University study found that this country’s reliance on coal, which generates almost half of our electricity, costs taxpayers about $345 billion a year in medical bills for health problems and pollution that occur in and around mining communities and power plants. To understand the devastating effects of coal mining on the environment and communities, I highly recommend “Coal Country,” a 2009 documentary that follows Appalachia residents, miners and the activists protesting the practices of Appalachian coal companies. The issues with deepwater drilling have been painfully clear to all of us.
“If Obama's coal and oil blitz doesn't spur large protests at the White House, the environmental movement might as well pack its bags, rub on some patchouli, and head to the mountains (at least until the bulldozers come),” Hurowitz states. “At the end of the day, if we are to succeed, we will need to earn the respect of our friends and foes alike, and that starts with heeding hitting the ballot box and the streets.”
The beauty of the Appalachian Mountains is threatened by coal mining. Photo courtesy of the Sierra Club
In West Virginia, an increase in mountaintop removal mining has meant a decrease in jobs as people are replaced with machines. Photo By Mark Schmerling/courtesy of the Sierra Club