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The coal industry is a filthy business, but that doesn't stop the industry from spending a fortune on PR consultants to try and distract attention away from the costs it imposes on Americans every day. With labels like "clean coal" and "green coal," the coal industry's spinmeisters spend a lot of time and money trying to pretend coal is something it is not.  

Now in response to a successful campaign by the Sierra Club and our allies in the United States to stop the construction of new coal plants - we are up to 145 plants stopped - Peabody Energy - the world's largest coal company - is proposing to grow its market by shipping coal overseas to impoverished countries.

Peabody's rationale for going overseas? They have a moral duty to alleviate energy poverty in countries that lack access to electricity.  

Before exploring Peabody's new campaign to ship coal overseas, let's take stock at the industry's anti-poverty legacy in the United States:

  1. The three poorest counties in America are all in Appalachia's coal country and have given for decades at the altar of King Coal. And while the coal barons are richer, the counties have nothing but rampant poverty to show for the toxic mess Peabody and its ilk have left behind. Just which country is Peabody imagining aspires to be dominated by coal and look like the poorest parts of Appalachia or the Southern Illinois coalfields?
  1. Last month the Clean Air Task Force released a new report documenting that the fine particle pollution from coal plants causes upwards of $100 billion in health costs every year. These costs include asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and cancer. In addition to the Americans who are breathing coal's pollution and paying with health problems, all of us are also paying higher insurance costs and taxes to pay for coal's pollution.

The $100 billion health costs that coal is imposing on Americans is about the same amount Americans pay in health care costs resulting from smoking, and this is only the cost from particle pollution. It does not include the health care costs from other coal toxins like mercury causing brain disorders, or the environmental costs of fish-less lakes and streams across the Adirondacks and Appalachia. Smoking and coal burning are twin ills, literally killing and maiming Americans every day.  

Over the past five years, the Sierra Club and our allies have highlighted coal's cost on our health and environment and stopped more than 145 new coal plants from breaking ground, effectively ending the industry's opportunity to grow in the United States. Now in response, the industry is taking another page from the tobacco industry's playbook:  Ship its deadly product overseas

Peabody Energy recently announced its new campaign to "end global energy poverty." The company is proposing to ship U.S. coal overseas to bring electricity and prosperity to the world's two billion residents that lack access to electricity.

Peabody urges us to ignore coal's pollution and focus on poverty:  

"The greatest crisis we confront in the 21st Century is not a future environmental crisis predicted by computer models, but a human crisis today that is fully within our power to solve. For too long, too many have been focused on the wrong end game," said [Peabody CEO and Chairman] Gregory Boyce.  

"For everyone who has voiced a 2050 greenhouse gas goal, we need 10 people and policy bodies working toward the goal of broad energy access. Only once we have a growing, vibrant, global economy providing energy access and an improved human condition for billions of the energy impoverished can we accelerate progress on environmental issues such as a reduction in greenhouse gases."

Peabody's Boyce even had the audacity to say, "We must put people first." Which people is he referring to? The miners who paid the ultimate price at the Big Branch disaster in April? The 13,000 people who die annually from coal plant pollution?

Peabody wants us to ignore coal's complete lack of concern for its worker and pollution here in the U.S. because it wants to divert focus onto another problem. (They've even got it all spelled out in this Power Point presentation).

This PR ploy is ugly and offensive, and an act of desperation. Students at Washington University in St. Louis recently protested Peabody's Boyce's appearance at their school: "Alleviating poverty worldwide is something we should all be focusing on, especially as we look at developing a clean energy future that is open to everyone - selling more coal however, will only help pad Peabody's pockets."

Just like other dangerous and corrupting corporations before it - read tobacco - the coal industry when feeling the pressure in the U.S. has always tried to target the workers, communities and countries least able to resist their abuses. Today in the U.S., with a national movement to move the country beyond coal there is a bright spotlight on the filthy lifecycle of coal from mining to burning to ash disposal, and the coal industry is running out of places to hide.  

It has also run out of growth opportunities in the U.S. and other wealthy countries, and now wants to exports its pollution to developing countries.  

Nice try, but we are not going to let this happen.

Mr. Peabody, consider yourself on notice. You can run, but you can't hide. We will not let you replicate your century of abuse of our workers, of our communities, of our environment, elsewhere in the world. We will use every outlet we have to collaborate with our allies overseas, to alert them that you are offering fool's gold, that clean energy is cheaper and lacks coal's polluting and corrupting ways. You will find no resting place.

This latest plan - perhaps your most audacious cynical ploy to date - will fail as surely as your efforts to build 150 new coal plants in the United States.

Originally posted to Bruce Nilles on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 09:52 AM PDT.

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