Legislation necessary to protect Americans’ health from coal

Our politicians have a morbid skeleton (among others) in their closets: coal.

The U.S. burns more than one billion short tons of coal per year. That’s around 5.5 billion pounds of coal per day.

This is, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “the single biggest air polluter in the U.S.” and is ridiculously toxic, leaving exorbitant amounts of arsenic, lead, thallium, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury and nickel in our water and atmosphere.

In fact, according to a 2007 peer-reviewed EPA study, living next to a coal ash disposal site enormously  increases your risk of cancer or other diseases, and people drinking water contaminated by coal deposits have chances as high as one in 50 of getting cancer.

And, guess what: we have two (outdated) coal plants right here on campus.

The weird thing is, you would think that as soon as scientists discovered that burning coal causes cancer (which happened in the 1770s), our politicians, those who are supposed to be watching out for the best interests of their citizens, would have quickly stopped such an exceedingly deleterious system.

But politicians (and energy executives) don’t care about your silly “science”; nor do they care about that “public health” nonsense. All they care about is money. Simple as that.

If this weren’t true, explain why, from October 2009 to April 2010, coal company executives and lobbyists held at least 33 White House meetings, three times more than any meetings that included scientists or environmentalists.

If this weren’t true, explain why, according to an October New York Times article, mining-related interests (mainly Murray Energy Corp., the National Mining Association, Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Arch Coal Co.) have paid more than $2.8 million in lobbying just federal candidates in this election cycle alone, and why electric utilities companies (namely the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Exelon Corp., Dominion Resources, and American Electric Power Co. Inc.) have spent more than $5.9 million.

If this weren’t true, explain why Massey Energy alone, from 2005 to 2010, was cited for 38,997 violations (that’s more than 21 per day), and punished for almost none of them.

Now, some declare the answer is “clean coal” (their new favorite buzzword), but realize that this is a pure pipe dream at best — and a pure lie at worst. In July, Popular Mechanics (in absolutely no way an environmentalist magazine) published “The Myth of Clean Coal,” declaring that “mythical” clean coal makes “little economic or scientific sense,” and that “coal will never be clean.”

There’s no way around it. “Clean coal” is an oxymoron.  A “clean” coal factory is akin to a lung-friendly cigarette; they don’t exist — both go against their very nature.

Yet there’s still insipid incessant dogmatic mantra. Yes, “coal keeps the lights on,” but that’s no justification. This is only the case because it’s “cheap” to blow off the top of mountains — with little regard for surrounding inhabitants — and extract it. This is only because of gargantuan government subsidies — not just overt handouts, but more clandestine tax credits and breaks. (On a federal level, this estimated around $17 billion between 2002 and 2008; on a state level, the Kentucky state government’s net subsidy to coal is $115 million). This is only because “cheap” is defined without considering any externalities, without considering that it is poisoning all of us.

When one considers the real cost of coal, one sees that it is certainly not cheap, not by any stretch of imagination.

In fact, a 2010 Harvard Medical School study found coal costs our country $500 billion per year — and $74 billion per year in public health burdens in Appalachian communities alone.

Plus, just because an aspect of our society currently relies on a system of extreme oppression and plain maleficence in no way justifies it. The argument that “coal keeps the lights on” and, ergo, we need it, is the exact same argument used by slave holders 200 years ago: “Slavery keeps the food on the table.” Slaves grew their food, prepared it, served it — the list goes on. Without slaves, they would have surely starved. Consequently, slavery should have continued, right?

WRONG. Because slavery, just like coal mining and burning, is atrocious.

And all of this doesn’t even touch on how the search for cheap coal has ravaged and raped Appalachia; nor does any of this address climate change, the largest problem of all, for it affects the survival of life on this planet — and the fact is, coal is the largest single source of greenhouse gases in the U.S.

So, what can we do? We must hold our politicians accountable. Why do they think it’s OK for filthy-rich coal executives (pun intended) to make millions of dollars per year at the expense of the people and their health and well-being? It isn’t. We must refuse to be quiet and obediently take our poison. We absolutely must move beyond coal; it’s in all of our best interests.