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Like a fiend with his dope and a drunkard his wine

Photo: Matthew Frank - Missoula Independent

Okay, I’m still talking coal, but there were a couple of recent articles that I think you need to be aware of . First of all,  this photo of the Tongue River Valley. This is what we are willing to destroy for $15 a ton. The article in the Missoula Independent this week continues the arguments against permitting the Otter Creek coal mines. We will sell the coal for $15 a ton in Montana. It costs $85 – $110 a ton to ship the coal to China where it will burn, doing irreparable harm to the atmosphere. (Just a reminder, that atmosphere doesn’t just cover China.) People will die because of our preventable actions in of Montana.

Who makes money from the coal? Montana who may get 5% of our budget from Otter Creek for a few years if we burn every last speck of coal? Or, the coal companies who are selling the coal for $120 a ton to Far East markets? Each year we are burning less and less coal in the U.S. because of the environmental and economic cost, but China is more than happy to pollute their environment and kill people around the globe with our help.

The reason we want to sell and burn more coal is dollars, not lives. The reason coal is still popular around the world is because it is cheap. Coal is cheap because we don’t count the human and environmental costs in the price. In West Virginia alone,

Since the 1970s, 500 peaks and counting have been literally blown up for the coal that’s deep underground. It’s called mountaintop removal mining, and it’s the subject of a new documentary called “The Last Mountain.” It now surpasses mining that takes place underground in output.

That brings us to the second article that you need to read.

Coal mining, particularly in southern Appalachia, is one of the most destructive forces of mankind, blowing off the tops of mountains, filling streams and valleys with rubble and ripping communities apart. Transporting coal from mine to plant produces large quantities of climate pollutants as well as more traditional air pollutants. Burning coal releases millions upon millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which react to form smog, acid rain and particulate matter. Burning coal also releases hazardous air pollutants, heavy metals and acid gases. Finally, coal ash–the waste left behind after coal is burned–contains additional toxic heavy metals like arsenic, chromium, selenium, mercury and more.

The article goes on to show that even the coal companies who tout “Clean Coal” technologies (but are unwilling to pay the cost for its development), don’t really expect that it will ever become reality and wouldn’t want to spend the money to implement it if it were a real solution. Coal companies are constantly fighting regulations what would make burning coal slightly more environmentally friendly and refuse to use existing technologies that would make burning the nasty stuff more palatable.

In other words, they are just taking the easy way out by shifting the focus from what they can do now to what they may or may not do in the future. If coal advocates are always just hoping, without commitment, for the next big thing, they continue to shirk responsibility for their contribution to pollution today and are really just talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Lastly, a quote from the Merle Travis classic 65 years ago:

I hope when I'm gone and the ages shall roll
My body will blacken and turn into coal
Then I'll look from the door of my heavenly home
And pity the miner a-diggin' my bones.

We all need to convince our “Coal Cowboy” governor that there is no such thing as clean coal and that Montanans are not willing to pay our bills with the bodies of fellow inhabitants of this planet.


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