To cut pollution, improve worker health and working environment, create jobs, and boost our economy, renewable energy should be mandatory. Here are my ideas.
President Obama and the EPA recently announced the new Clean Power Plan, which aims at reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants. The US is the second largest emitter of CO2 emissions, behind China, and our dirty coal and natural gas plants are the biggest culprits.
Energy as it has been: coal
Coal is toxic while it is still in the ground. Coal miners stir up coal dust, and consequently suffer from severe respiratory illnesses, the worst of which is black lung disease. Before coal is ever burned, it causes health problems.
When coal is burned to produce electricity, it continues to cause respiratory problems along with nervous system damage and neurological problems. Toxic emissions contain CO2, sulfur dioxide (which causes acid rain), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons (found in smog), and heavy toxic metals, such as cadmium, mercury, and lead. When you see a coal plant chugging out black smoke, that’s what it contains, and that’s what you are breathing.
Natural gas is a bad replacement for coal
Under the new Clean Power Plan, some coal plants may be converted to natural gas, which might be cleaner as far as emissions. Its toxicity, though, comes from the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) used to drill it from deep in the earth.
Some of the same heavy metals found in coal emissions are added to millions of gallons of fresh water to be used in the drilling process. Water sources are polluted, and the same illnesses caused by coal are found in people using this water. I won’t talk about the millions of gallons of water that are wasted.
Natural gas is a bad replacement for coal.
Clean power plan: what I think we should do
The coal industry is dying. Reduced demand, fewer exports, more required and expensive emissions reductions, and high debt are forcing layoffs. It’s not looking like the industry will bounce back. Many companies are filing for bankruptcy.
Miners want to work. They are struggling on unemployment with few job prospects. Most don’t want to move away from home. How can we help them?
Close the mines, clean up and reclaim the brownfields, and install solar or wind farms on them. Put local people back to work close to home in jobs that are better for their health and that of the planet. Pay them well, and offer generous health and pension plans.
Re-position the energy sector
Convert coal and natural gas plants to renewable energy. Clean up the piles of coal, and install solar and wind to generate the power needed to make electricity.
Miners, frackers, plant workers, and supply chain and service businesses affected by mine closures can be trained as solar installers. Put panels on every rooftop. Germany has been successful with this. Why don’t we pay attention to that?
Investors in the fossil fuel industry need to shift their money to renewables. Documentation of the demand and efficiency needs to be compiled in a comprehensive package. As coal continues to lose money, stats on short and long term ROI for renewables will be more and more compelling.
In my perfect world, renewable energy would be mandatory. Coal mines would close, fracking would end, and renewables would rule and be affordable for everyone. We’d see drastic reductions in toxic emissions and air pollution. Jobs would be created, and international investors would see healthy profits.
I think the new EPA Clean Power Plan is soft, simply expanding on reductions that have been happening over the last ten years. It’s sort of like saying, ‘Good job, America! Keep up the good work!’ We need to say, ‘Good job, America, but now we’re going to make you do better!’