“Coal-fired plants – what do they mean to us?”
By Beverly Franco – Los Angeles Environmentalist / Activist
I often ask myself, if we are burning coal to provide electricity, where does the coal come from and at what cost? Not just the cost in dollars, but in social and natural capital.
Social capital is the human equation that we need to include and consider in every decision. Add natural capital – which is the impact of the decision and/or project on nature. Both of these need and must be considered before focusing on the financial capital of any undertaking, no matter what it is or involves.
These two very important and vital capital investments should rule and guide all of our decisions, whether its here or in another country – around the world. Each person’s humanity needs to be considered, as well as the natural world we all live in. Can we afford the long-term costs in the human equation?
So, we are back to coal – that black stuff that I remember watching come down the coal shute into the basement which was part of our house in Madison, Wisconsin. My understanding of what it did was limited by this 8 year old’s simple and as yet, uneducated mind. I knew my aunt and uncle used it to heat this large two-story house we lived in. I don’t recall being cold, so guess it did the job. I wasn’t into questioning then. Now, I’m trying make up for lost time.
Now my understanding and my questioning has broadened and I want to know where the coal comes from for the carbon-producing coal-fired plants and what is the damage to acquire that coal? The damage to the miners who have gone down into the mines for many years – it’s a living, but the end result for those miners was and is black-lung disease, which means a reduced quality of life and early death.
Now we have MTR – Mountain-top removal, where the coal companies, with deep pockets, blast off the tops of mountains. When you blow up something, what happens? There is debris, fallout that has to go somewhere. Imagine turning on your kitchen faucet and seeing black water coming out, or attempting to take a shower and the same thing happening. You are now dirtier than you were when you stepped into the shower! Waterways, rivers, streams and the water are things we need to survive. Yuk! Now picture a “pond” filled with sludge – a by-product of separating coal from rock. This is what the residents of West Virginia. Kentucky, and Tennessee live with.
I’m well aware that there are always hazards around us, but some could be prevented. Like the coal industry, in its wake, does shovel its waste into open pits, leaves abandoned mines, and huge slurry ponds like the one that burst its banks, December 2008 in Kingston, Tennessee, sending a billion gallons of toxic goo into and across the Emory River, covering 300 acres six feet deep. And there are more sites that threaten the land, water, and lives of the citizens in these areas.
In West Virginia, where this latest MTR is underway by Massey Coal. The last mountain standing is Coal River Mountain in the Coal River Valley. Residents are fighting to stop this and have formed Coal River Mountain Project to explore wind energy instead of blasting the mountain to kingdom come or to hell, whichever way you want to call it. Massey has already received the necessary permits to blast away.
The residents of this valley are also very, very concerned, not only about their water supply, which is still fresh and drinkable, for now. But less than 100 yards from the site where earth-shattering explosives are being detonated by Massey Coal, lies the Brushy Fork Impoundment – the largest lake of coal sludge in the Western Hemisphere. The instability of such impoundments is a disaster waiting to happen.
Its important to point out that, more than likely, the coal will be gone in 20 years, but what will be left if its all been blown up and the waste hasn’t gone anywhere? The lack of vision for a viable future is subverted by money, and its called greed.
Personally, I find it harder and harder to sleep in my cozy, electrified and comfortable home, while others are not so comfortable or safe. Its called Bearing Witness, a Quaker axiom – once you know, you can still chose to turn away but not from ignorance. We know now and we can chose to act, to make change, to demand change. Its in our power and it’s the right thing to do.
In Arizona, Hopi and Navajo Native Americans are trudging toward a future that might include electricity. Electricity that is generated by solar and wind. Electricity that, until recently, didn’t exist on the reservation where they lived, even though many worked for Peabody Coal-fired plant! For 30+ years Peabody has used the Black Rock aquifer to transport the coal, called slurry to a station that supplied the electricity for southern Arizona, Nevada and California. Did you note that the Native Americans did not have electricity, all the while 50% of the residents were working at this coal-fired plant? Now that aquifer is history and the company, Peabody, has closed down the plant instead of going to the expense of installing scrubbers to capture the polluting carbon being emitted by the plant. Imagine, if you will, what 30+ years of emitting that has done to our atmosphere, to our lungs?
Ignorance on the part of many, myself included, helps to continue this voracious and insidious habit of supporting our comfort zones, while at the terminus of the process, many go without. Children doing their homework by daylight, quickly, or using kerosene lamps or candlelight. Where is the outrage?
My children didn’t suffer that. Just flip a switch, turn on the faucet.
Get your pencils out to write down the name of the organization that the Hopi and Navajo have formed to bring in their own electricity, their own employment by way of wind and solar farms utilizing the monies from cap-and-trade? Sandia Tribal Energy Program.
Edison has fought this, as they believe the rate-payers should get this money. If the savings from cap-and-trade can be passed on to our first citizens to be self-sustaining and self-supporting, it’s the right thing to do. And, maybe, its about time that was the agenda, for us all.
Lights, fresh water, jobs. Add in dignity and respect, and we all have hope.– Beverly Franco, Writer and Green Activist