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President Obama's victory yesterday was a victory for clean energy, one that gives us a fighting chance to slash coal pollution and turn the corner on climate change, in the wake of a devastating hurricane that brought global warming into sharp, painful focus for millions of Americans.

As the Sierra Club's Michael Brune said on election night, "We did it." Fossil fuel billionaires had spent at record levels to defeat Obama in this election, and Romney had returned the favor, promising to open the floodgates on more mining and drilling if elected. But then Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern Seaboard, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Obama as the candidate most likely to lead on climate change, and Romney's dismissal of rising oceans as a laugh line in his GOP Convention speech became an especially chilling out-of-touch episode, in a Republican Presidential campaign that had no shortage of such moments.

Ironically, the coal industry had pinned its hopes on Romney -- the consummate businessman -- to protect the industry from the harsh realities of the free market. Now, the coal industry will have to stop hiding behind inflammatory slogans like "the war on coal," and will have to grapple with a marketplace and an American public that are turning away from coal in favor of cleaner, cheaper sources of energy. Coal will only produce 37% of America's electricity this year, down from 50% just five years ago, and those trends show no signs of reversing.

In reality, the decline of coal and the rise of clean energy have more to do with Main Street and Wall Street than with Pennsylvania Avenue. Over the past four years, in almost every state in the nation, hundreds of thousands of people have worked together to retire polluting local coal plants, get more wind and solar power on the grid, and use energy more efficiently. Today, 125 coal plants -- out of over 500 nationwide -- are now slated for retirement. As a result, U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest level in two decades, clean energy is coming on line at record levels, and tens of thousands of Americans now have clean energy jobs.

The marketplace and the American people have spoken, and there is no amount of grandstanding by coal barons that will turn this tide. By the end of Obama's second term, the Beyond Coal Campaign plans to:

-- Secure the retirement of one-third of the nation's coal plants.

-- Power the nation with record amounts of clean energy and energy efficiency.

-- End mountaintop removal once and for all.

-- Close additional coal pollution loopholes, including long-overdue protections for carbon, soot, smog, coal ash, and water pollution.

-- Prevent increased coal exports overseas to places where it will be burned with fewer pollution controls and no climate safeguards.

Making this happen will require the continued energy and dedication of our Beyond Coal grassroots movement. While the coal industry did its best to paint President Obama as their sworn enemy during the election, in fact, in Obama's first term, he was a centrist when it came to energy. On one hand, his Administration took historic measures to clean up some of the most dangerous pollution from coal -- mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxins -- while also putting a carbon standard in place for new power plants. The Obama White House also helped jumpstart clean energy, creating tens of thousands of new wind and solar jobs and helping to ensure that America will be a lead innovator in the clean energy revolution that will power the nations and economies of the twenty-first century.

On the other hand, some of the worst abuses of the coal industry continued. Mountaintop removal mining operations are still blowing up mountains, burying streams, and causing serious health problems across Appalachia. We don't yet have carbon standards for existing power plants, which are our single biggest source of greenhouse gases. There are still no national protections for the dumping of toxic coal ash. And when it comes to clean energy and energy efficiency, this country is still far behind much of the rest of the developed world.

No, coal's decline has less to do with President Obama and more to do with the fact that, after 100 years of heedlessly dumping air and water pollution onto the American people, the day of reckoning has come. Investors know that our fleet of coal plants is outdated, and they are putting their money into cleaner twenty-first century energy technologies like wind and solar -- not into propping up coal plants that are reaching the end of their lifespan. Meanwhile, town by town, city by city, and state by state, local leaders are making the decision to retire aging coal plants, get rid of the pollution and health problems, and ensure their communities aren’t left behind in the clean energy revolution.

I live in West Virginia, so I'm not surprised that coal mining areas of the U.S. voted overwhelmingly for Romney in this election. As coal is eclipsed by other forms of energy, people in coal country are justifiably concerned about their livelihoods and their future. Perhaps the results of this election will finally push some of our leaders to start talking honestly about the challenges we face and the need to diversify coal state economies -- in short, to provide some leadership. Our region's decision-makers would be doing a far greater service to their constituents by using their political clout to bring federal resources that will help Appalachia and other mining regions make a transition, rather than digging in their heels and refusing to acknowledge that the world is changing.

In Appalachia and beyond, one thing is certain -- President Obama's re-election means that for four more years, the marketplace and the American people will continue to move away from coal, and the coal barons won't have a crony in the White House to try and stop that inevitable shift.

From the streets of New York ravaged by Hurricane Sandy to the mountains of Appalachia ravaged by mountaintop removal, and from the mother watching her son struggle to breathe to the grandfather watching his granddaughter sleep and worrying he is leaving her a dangerous, unstable planet, Americans are ready to move beyond coal.

President Obama can only help lead the nation there. We are going to have to do the hard work ourselves. But his re-election means we have a fighting chance.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Beautifully written (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Rock on MA

    "Lets show the rascals what Citizens United really means."

    by smiley7 on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 07:20:44 AM PST

  •  I hope you realize that the reason for (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pariah Dog, deepeco

    coal edging downwards of late is due to the current glut of fracked natural gas?

    which is twice as bad for the environment as coal?

    •  True (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Roadbed Guy, deepeco

      I live in one of those deep red pockets of Appalachian Ohio and I hear the War on Coal meme all the live long day - every day.

      But my county has recently been inundated with landmen - leasing contracts, greasy smiles, and checkbooks in hand - enticing property owners with promises of untold wealth. They're paying upwards of $5000 an acre for gas leasing rights. And that's just the signing bonus, it doesn't include the mega-royalties they promise (which will probably never materialize).

      When you own 200 or 300 acres of farmland and never made more than $35,000 a year, that's some mighty big enticement.

      It's a gnarly story that's changing by the minute, but I look at several things that don't compat.

      My gas royalty check this year (my gas was already leased when I bought the place) was the smallest it's ever been. I'm told that the fracking thing is so cheap to do its flooded the market and driven the price of natural gas down to historical lows. Cheap? When they're paying so much for leasing rights?

      My electric bills, otoh, have been rising into the stratosphere for that last five years. I'm told they're gonna go down aaaaannnny day now when the power plants start burning that cheap fracked gas instead of coal.

      And then I read where AEP has asked for, and graciously received, yet another rate increase from their benefactors, the PUCO.

      None of it makes sense, but it does make for outstanding political dog whistles. Coal does have to go. But perhaps instead of filling the coffers of people like Romney, someone should start teaching the coal miners how to build wind turbins.

      They won't though. The people of Appalachia will once again get stabbed in the back and they will have, once again, handed their attacker the knife.


      Meddle not in the affairs of dragons... for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

      by Pariah Dog on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 08:04:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I was checking out the payments for a wind (0+ / 0-)

        turbine on a farm, and it seems to be (according to internet sources that I have no idea are correct or not) about $3K to $4K per turbine - which takes up several (let's say 10) acres.

        So, sadly enough, the right to frackin' appear to be about 10X more lucrative than for clean wind power.   Of course, if the EPA cared to enforce externalities that all might change dramatically.

        •  10 acres for one turbin? (0+ / 0-)

          I didn't think they had that big a footprint.

          A lot of people down here are hesitant to sign over their rights because these contracts are multi-pages long and contain tons of legalese. But these landmen just keep talking about production and royalties and waving that blank check in their faces. Most people sign not really knowing what they're going to wind up with. A well site? A processing plant? Roads and waste water ponds?

          Then there's the little eminant domain rumor that's floating around. They need 600 acres to drill a shaft. If everyone around you has signed and you're the lone hold out....

          My neighbors and I have never even seen our lease agreement! It was done back in the sixties when our places were all one big farm. They keep promising to send me a copy, but they never do.

          For the record, in case you aren't in Ohio, the EPA here is something of a joke. I speak from experience.

          Meddle not in the affairs of dragons... for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

          by Pariah Dog on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 01:39:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  What we need is REAL clean coal..... (0+ / 0-)

    We did it with Sulfur Dioxide, worldwide and virtually ended acid rain. Beavers are now more of a threat to the forests in the northern hemisphere.

    There are so many win-win possibilities in developing the tech to sequester the CO2 out of our coal exhaust, as well as reusing the fly ash, it boggles the mind.

    The coal power industry needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and truly clean up it's act.... they survived and thrived after SO4, they will again in a post CO2 world.

    Combined with a real national move to solar, and to electric transportation.... we are going to need to TRIPLE our national electric production to support the transition to electric vehicles.

    Clean coal solutions will also yield mobile solutions to cleaning diesel exhaust on our truck/rail/ship fleet.... leaving only aircraft as polluters.

    We will NEED the aircraft pollution, as it will allow us to dial in just enough to control the amount of the Sun's energy that reaches the lower atmosphere, and throttle atmospheric warming while all the other solutions come on line.

    Let's hope this next 4 years gets real solutions in place finally, before we pass the tipping point.

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