2020-03-07 Coal And Its Evil Results

In China, industries burned coal and people burned coal for cooking and heating. In cities like Beijing the air pollution was so bad that it was hard to see the stop lights and pedestrians had to wear facemasks. The pollution killed estimated millions of people with lung problems. China realized this and has done a lot to cut air pollution.

p.90 “as public awareness of the dangers of air pollution mounted, the Chinese government moved quickly. It shuttered old coal plants and create a new regulations for all new plants. In some regions, it cancelled all new coal plants completely.

Thanks to these new policies, some experts estimate that over a hundred and ten thousand fewer Chinese people will die of pollution related deaths in 2017, with an additional 2.1 million rescued from debilitating a lung disease. The world is better off, too in no small part because of China’s moves, global greenhouse gas emissions have stabilized over the past three years.”

But we in the U.S. still use coal to generate 1/3 of the electricity. I’ve been reading “Climate of Hope” and I have been finding out how evil coal and the industry is. These are some excerpts from the book.

from “Climate of Hope” p.85
For over a century, mining and energy companies have been able to privatize coal’s profits while socializing its costs. Translation: corporations make money and taxpayers pay the price. This is still largely true. And yet the many ways in which mining and burning coal imposed costs on the rest of us are rarely recognized. Coal companies pay neither to care for people their plants sicken nor to clean the air of the toxins their plants emit, to say nothing of the huge climate costs imposed by carbon emissions. In a properly functioning market, coal companies would have to account for the costs they impose on society. Instead, those costs are still largely borne by society.”

p.86 “And while the Trump administration may gut [the Clean Power Plan], it’s worth remembering what happened from 2010 to 2015, when emissions fell and so many plants closed: the price of wholesale electricity fell by a quarter, and there was no increase in the frequency of power outages. We can cut costs /and/ emissions without sacrificing reliability — or human lives.”

p.87 “A good example of how Beyond Coal has worked comes from Omaha, Nebraska. The Omaha public Power District (OPPD), a local utility, had owned and operated a large coal plant, its North Omaha Station, for more than 60 years. Since it had been built well before the Clean Air Act, it was not equipped with technology to limit its pollution. The act had stipulations for this, of course, mandating that the plant update pollution controls whenever it modernized the plant. But OPPD never upgraded the plant, allowing it to become one of Nebraska’s largest sources of air pollution. A Nebraska state legislative study linked it to 240 asthma attacks, 22 heart attacks, and 14 deaths a year, imposing $100 million in health and environmental costs on the community.”

“Nebraska’s Sierra Club chapter decided that this plant was a prime candidate for the Beyond Coal campaign. The chapter has spent years talking with the community about the plant’s health hazards. But it was only when the club demonstrated to the utility that moving from coal would be cost-effective that the situation changed. In June 2014, OPPD approved a plan to retire three of five coal-fired units at the plant by the end of 2016. Meanwhile, they promised to convert the two remaining units to cleaner-burning gas by 2023. Even better: the utility committed to implementing energy efficiency measures and investing in substantial new wind power. By 2018, one-third of the area’s power will come from renewable resources.”

Despite its health dangers and bad economics, government still subsidizes coal in ways that give it a price advantage over renewable and other cleaner-burning fuels. Consider the Powder River Basin, which straddles Wyoming and Montana. The basin contains two of the world’s largest coal mines, which alone produce a fifth of the nation’s coal. The entire region produces about 43% of America’s coal, or nearly 500 million tons each year, virtually all publicly owned. Yet, amazingly, the US Department of the Interior has not classified Powder River as a coal producing region.

If it did, it would have to sell the coal from public lands in a fair market, with competitive auctions. Instead, current rules allow coal companies to buy publicly-owned coal at whatever price they set. This not only deprives taxpayers of the true financial value of public coal, but it also enables mining companies to flood the energy market with subsidized coal, unfairly competing with gas and renewables. Taxpayers get cheated out of nearly $3 billion a year in the deal. There was a lot of talk in 2016 about a “rigged” economy. Well, the energy market is rigged in favor of coal. And while coal is still losing badly, it is hurting the rest of us on its way down.”

“The Obama administration finally began to limit these giveaways in 2016, by imposing a moratorium on new leases of coal on public lands. But existing leases, at far below market value, remain intact. One study estimates that just removing the federal subsidy would reduce demand for Powder River coal by up to 29%. Ending the sale of coal from public land would raise the price of coal to market levels, forcing it to compete on a more level playing field with cleaner fuels like renewables and gas.

Because of the political power of the coal industry, the federal government props up coal companies in other ways too — ignoring their use of creative accounting to shift liabilities (like worker pensions and environmental cleanups) to shell companies they allow to go bankrupt. By allowing this scam our legislatures and regulators hurt coal workers and impose costs on taxpayers. Time and time again, as mining companies run out of money, courts have let them take the money set aside for pensions and use it for their own operations, leaving the public to pick up the uncovered costs. In 2015, for instance, a bankruptcy court allowed a mining company to use funds set aside for the pensions of 208 Indiana minors, spouses, and widows to pay its lawyers instead. Yet even after they go bankrupt and abandon their employees and neighbors, coal companies managed to keep paying the politicians who have protected them. In 2016 bankrupt coal companies gave federal and state candidates nearly $1 million from their corporate political action committees. So civic-minded!”

p.90 “China and India both still have a long way to go to wean themselves from coal, but both are making progress, and other countries are moving even more rapidly. The UK has announced that it will eliminate is last coal-fired power plant by 2025. In 2016, there were several brief points at which absolutely no electricity was being generated in the UK by a coal — a first since 1882. Portugal is routinely powered by renewables alone for days. And in countries from Myanmar to Chile, citizens are pushing back against coal — and winning. The international energy agency found that renewables like wind and solar represented more than half of the total global growth in electrical generation capacity in 2015 and that this trend would accelerate over the next five years.”

p.91 “Coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet”, the scientist and early climate change pioneer James Hansen has said. America helped lead the world into the industrial revolution. Today it is helping lead the world out of one of its worst legacies. In 2015 the Sierra Club and Bloomberg Philanthropies increased our goal for Beyond Coal. We had originally aimed to cut coal power by 1/3. Now, we are aiming to cut it in half by the end of 2017. The GenOn Potomac plant — the backdrop for our kick-off announcement on that hot July day — is now closed. And a coal free world is finally in our sights.”

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