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Contrary to the impression you may have been left with after reading a recent Associated Press piece about the future (or lack thereof) of coal in this country, the reign of “King Coal” is ending.

Though the AP piece makes some good points (specifically, noting that “the process [for producing electricity from coal] has changed little since Thomas Edison built the first plant in 1882” and that even after $3.4 billion in stimulus spending, there is currently “no way of capturing carbon” from coal-fired power plants), the idea that coal-fired power is expanding as opposed to rapidly declining is inaccurate.

Just a few years ago, “King Coal” was hoping to build 151 new coal-fired power plants while the Bush Administration’s coal-friendly federal regulators were “on the job.” This was a troubling idea for many reasons. From the mine, to the plant, to the ash pond, coal is our dirtiest and most dangerous energy source. It causes four of the five leading causes of death in the United States, including heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lower respiratory diseases. It destroys mountains and releases toxic mercury into communities. The carbon pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants is responsible for more than 30% of our country’s total global warming pollution.

In response to this Coal Rush, the Sierra Club in 2005 launched a nationwide Beyond Coal campaign with a broad swath of allies to block these plans.

As of today, the Sierra Club and our allies have blocked 129 new coal plants from being constructed, keeping well more than 530 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. No new coal plants have broken ground since 2008 and clean energy is filling the vacuum, with record amounts of both wind and solar power projects up and running in 2009. Yes, there were some coal plants that sneaked through and came online in 2008 with enormous help from the Bush Administration’s coal-friendly permitting process. That number of coal plants, however, is a fraction of what was planned and represents significantly less than the growth in clean energy during the same time period- growth that would not have been possible if the energy market had been swamped with filthy coal. The wind industry alone added 8,300 MW to the grid in 2008- more than five times the 1,400 MW of new coal added to the grid that year.

Make no mistake, the Coal Rush is over. The costs of the plants that did make it through should serve as a reminder than no clean energy project has ever taken five years to build and witnessed 100 percent cost overruns. The steps to finally move America beyond coal have begun.

We are now in phase two of our efforts to dethrone King Coal, get our energy infrastructure out of the 19th century and build a modern and clean power sector. This phase involves retiring and replacing the oldest and dirtiest coal plants and opening up more market share for clean energy. Since January 2009, more than 8,300 megawatts of existing coal (about 16 average-sized coal plants) have been slated for retirement in the next decade. The tens of thousands of dedicated grassroots activists who first help to stop the coal rush are now busy phasing out outdated existing coal plants.

While we have made significant progress over the past few years, our work is clearly far from done.

It was an outrage when earlier this summer, corporate polluters relied on a minority of Senators to block action to cut coal plant pollution when conservationists, labor, veterans, communities of faith, small businesses and everyday citizens all agreed it was the right thing to do. Failing to address this problem puts all the collective future of our country, and our planet, in jeopardy. Scientists tell us that to avert runaway global warming we need to phase out coal plants in less than two decades.

Ending coal’s contribution to global warming, as well as the smog that plagues most of our cities, is a top priority for the Sierra Club, and we will continue to fight for the necessary changes in federal policy. With Congress stymied by a minority of Senators, we are engaged in other venues to address the litany of serious problems caused by coal.

Lisa Jackson at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is busy working on enforcing clean air and clean water laws designed to end the regulatory loopholes too-long exploited by King Coal. After eight years of Bush Administration backsliding and inaction, the safeguards seek to put public welfare back on top of the priority list. Among those safeguards are efforts such as:

    The Good Neighbor rule, which could help avoid 36,000 premature deaths from dirty air;
    The smog, or ozone, rule, which could prevent more than 5,000 heart attacks and up to 12,000 early deaths;
    The coal ash rule, which could keep known carcinogens from toxic coal leftovers out of our water.

The EPA is currently in the process of hosting public meetings across the country to hear input on these rules, with the first hearing on the Good Neighbor rule to be held in Chicago on Thursday, August 19.

Strong regulation of each step of coal’s dirty and dangerous life-cycle (from the reckless mining practices to the hazardous disposal of the toxic byproduct of the waste left over when coal is burned) is not only going to level the playing field between coal and clean energy, it is also to usher in a new era of American energy.

We know that continuing our dependence on coal chains us to dirty energy and prevents us from making the changes we need to bring about a clean, secure energy future. If our economy is to be revitalized by the clean-energy industry, if the health and safety of families is to be considered, if we want to have any hope of stopping the worst effects of climate change, King Coal’s reign cannot continue.

We have made unprecedented progress in recent years to prevent new coal plants and massive amounts of new pollution for decades into the future, but our work is not done. Whether it is pursuing federal legislation that will cut carbon pollution or pushing and supporting Lisa Jackson as she enforces the law to protect public health and our communities, we will continue the fight to move our country beyond coal.

Originally posted to Bruce Nilles on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 05:15 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Read this link (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with an open mind.

    I'm no fan of nuclear power, and have no wish to risk catastrophe with the nuclear options currently being bandied about.

    But integral fast reactor technology makes sense as a big, big part of safely moving away from fossil fuels using existing coal infrastructure. As it can be done quickly, safely and cleanly, with no potential for profits by extraction of fuel, it's been quietly discarded by the moneyed interests. As it carries the "nuclear" label, it's been summarily dismissed by the left. Sad.

    Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell - Edward Abbey

    by ZAP210 on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 05:27:37 PM PDT

  •  The question with CCS, always running through (4+ / 0-)

    my head, is why do we need waste handling of a poisonous gas for if we go solar thermal with storage as base load and we wont create the waste in the first place? It is simply an added expense.
    Australia has a plan to do this with a combined Wind/Solar thermal mix in 10 years which our next government should look at.

    Not using coal means no water cooling circuit and evaporation losses, (no desalination plants in the case of Australia) no ash plant, no ash ponds, no conveyor systems, no heavy mining equipment, no storage bunkers or mills. Sure, heliostat or parabolic solar arrays will need to be large, but if you look at the land and equipment needed to operate a coal fired plant, including all inputs and outputs, they would surely even out.

    Not to mention wear and tear on equipment with no combustion or toxic flue gases. That is before we consider the remedial and emergency response actions required to adapt to an out of control climate.

    One last thing, on energy storage, this new gravity storage idea is something I find very interesting and will write on. Localizing pumped hydro by drilling and installing a weight lifted during the day when there is plenty of sun, to provide storage during the night is very clever.
    A weighting game

    "You Still drilling for oil? Well good luck, I mean it. Idiot. Shine, Baby, Shine." JR Ewing

    by Unenergy on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 05:41:56 PM PDT

    •  Why would that be more capital efficient ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Unenergy

      ... than just pumping water up 500 feet or 1,000 feet from a reservoir at the bottom of a mountain to a reservoir near the top? I don't see the benefit versus modular pumped hydro here.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 06:19:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Still looking at this, but I guess there are a (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        few things which come to mind immediately -
        Large scale pumped storage still needs large scale distribution networks. This looks as though it would be OK in a micro-grid system.
        Nothing to be built above the ground aside from a shed for the pump and generator. ie. no large dam.
        No integration/tie up issues with existing water distribution networks.
        Depending on cost, but this could be an elegant low cost, low complexity, solution to energy storage issues.

        I am sure there are more, but IMO the more modular technology is, the more likelihood smaller groups, smaller investors will be able to become involved. Distributed generation and storage owned by smaller investors, one of the few ways I see us moving to a low carbon economy without strong government policy. And no strong policy appears to be in the works.

        "You Still drilling for oil? Well good luck, I mean it. Idiot. Shine, Baby, Shine." JR Ewing

        by Unenergy on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 06:33:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Renewable power needs ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... a large scale distribution network ... you don't need "another one" for large scale roll-out of  modular pumped hydro.

          Modular pumped hydro does not need a dam, that's conventional pumped hydro. That's the point, isn't it: by freeing it from a dam, you can get much more height, by working with much more height, a much smaller volume of water stores the same amount of energy.

          Modular pumped hydro would not seem to need any more tie-in to the water network than this ... the water has got to come from somewhere, but once in the system, it recirculates.

          It seems to me that a pipe to the upper tank and all the works at the lower tank is a lower complexity solution than this. The capital cost of the water storage would be similar, so its whether the capital cost of the pipe or digging down and the underground installation is higher.

          Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 08:44:36 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  "The Reign of King Coal is Ending" (0+ / 0-)

    I wish that were true .

    "He who owns little is little owned." HDT

    by indycam on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 06:08:25 PM PDT

  •  I hope this is true (0+ / 0-)

    but there is a contrasting story published on Think Progress today about the permitting for an additional 50 or so coal plants just recently.
    It sickens me that coal companies are able to get away with killing people directly in the work environment, directly in their own communities thru "accidents", directly thru toxifying the waters and air around coal mines and plants and indirectly thru mercury emissions and greenhouse gas emissions, and yet our government does nothing to control them.

  •  how exactly do democrats win in (0+ / 0-)

    KY OH and PA without king coal ?

    No Way, No How, No McCain (and where can I punch the next hippie - can't wait)

    by nerdngeek on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 06:44:36 PM PDT

  •  There's a much worse story about Coal than here (0+ / 0-)

    Like China and the rest of the developing world, and they don't care so  much.

    "slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 07:40:32 PM PDT

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