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Commies & Atheists: Why the Coal Industry Really Is a Relic of the Past

Frances Beinecke

Posted December 2, 2008

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Back in the seventies and eighties, I got called names because of the work I did: "tree hugger" was a favorite, so was "bleeding heart." But that was a long time ago, before energy security and green enterprise became mainstream issues. Imagine my surprise when just two weeks ago, almost 20 years after the end of the Cold War, the CEO of a major coal company called me and my colleagues "communists and atheists."

Here is a sample from the speech given by Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey, the fourth largest coal company in the nation. Keep in mind that these comments came soon after Blankenship compared the editor of the Charleston Gazette to Osama Bin Laden.

Turn down your thermostats? Buy a smaller car? Conserve? I have spent quite a bit of time in Russia and China, and that's the first stage. You go from having your own car to carpooling to riding the bus to mass transit. You eventually get to where you're walking. You go from your own apartment and bathroom to sharing kitchens with four families. That's what socialism and the elimination of capitalism and free enterprise is all about.

I should have expected such distortions from a coal industry leader. After all, equating energy efficiency measures--things that will save Americans money, create green collar jobs, and keep America out of unstable regions of the world--with communism is about as accurate as saying coal is clean.

That's right; this is the industry that has brought you the multi-million dollar ad campaign selling the fiction of "clean coal."

There is no such thing as "clean coal." Coal is dirty when it's mined, and it's dirty when it's burned. Mountaintop removal mining (and Massey in particular) is creating an environmental holocaust on Appalachian landscapes. And pollution from coal-fired plants is not only the biggest contributor to global warming, but it is also responsible for 24,000 deaths a year in the United States.

Blankenship's comments sound to me like the rantings of a party apparatchik who knows he is about to be purged. Yes, coal is widely available and relatively cheap in America, China, and India, and as a result, it will be with us for awhile. But its days of getting easy financing from Wall Street and automatic preference from utilities are coming to an end.

Just a few weeks ago, NRDC joined with the nation's utilities and went before the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to say we are prepared to change the rules so energy efficiency and renewables are profitable for utilities.

Ensuring profits for utilities is hardly a communist move. But efficiency really is a threat to coal's tyranny. If we made just 5 percent of American homes more energy efficient we would eliminate the need for almost 300 power plants by 2030--and save consumers billions in energy costs.

If coal wants to stay in the game, it has to start dealing with its carbon footprint. It should move as quickly as possible to install technologies that capture carbon from coal plants and store it underground. Sequestration technologies are still emerging, but the only way to move from where we are now to full maturity is to put a price on carbon. That will give the federal government the funds to invest in research and development, and it will give companies the incentive to invest in deployment.

Call that communism if you like. I call it good business.





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LT SchultzDec 2 2008 03:08 PM

If anything, mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia recalls the destructive way brown coal was mined behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. Weren't those Polish coal mines an example of the horrors of communism? We are turning a quarter of Appalachia literally upside down for a small supply of coal--perhaps 10% of what we burn--and it won't even last 50 years. It might not even last 25.

John LiffeeDec 3 2008 11:35 PM

You know what I really appreciate about this post? Hearing some honest, unmistakeable outrage from NRDC's president about the very notion of clean coal.

It's time to take off the kid gloves. Say it, Frances: "Coal is the enemy of the human race." 350 ppm or bust.

Richard MercerDec 5 2008 11:54 AM

Carbon capture and sequestration sounds good, but most of our coal plants are very old and are not candidates for such expensive measures.

When you add the costs making coal clean (an oxymoron to begin with) coal will not be able to compete with solar and wind power.

Was it communist thinking that led the U.S. to ration commodities during World War 2? Or were we communists or atheists because the govt directed the car manufacturers to switch to producing tanks, planes, guns and ships for the war?
We face an even bigger threat now than we did then, but conservatives just want to bury their head in the sand and call those who are concerned- socialist or communist.
When oh when will the red baiting end?
It is absurd and childish thinking- passed off as thoughtfulness. The depth of their thinking is impressive. Environmentalists tend to be liberals, liberals are bad, therefore global warming isn't real.
They don't stop there though, the scientists must be left wing extremist also.

Dear Conservatives:

The world is much more complicated than your simplistic us vs them, black and white, good vs evil world view.
On what planet is it sane to have a discussion about whether it is economically worth preserving the planet's ability to support life? In this day and age, not being an environmentalist means you are an idiot. Period. I'm sorry but there is no nice way to say it. It is just common sense.
I remember being 8-10 years old, watching exhaust pouring out of a tailpipe, and wondering how long that can go on before we poison the air we breathe. It's that simple and it's that obvious. Open your eyes. You are blinded by ideology that doesn't serve you.

We are threatening the collapse of every ecosystem on earth, EVEN WITHOUT GLOBAL WARMING
Don't you watch TV shows like National Geographic. After 40 years or so of warnings and documentation of the ecological destruction, you still don't get it. WAKE UP! Man cannot survive if the ecosystems fail. Is there something you don't understand about that?
Just look at the oceans. 75% of fish stocks gone. 90% of large fish gone. salmon nearly all gone. coral reefs going going -soon gone. Ocean acidification threatens every type of shellfish and coral reefs. An area the size of the lower 48 in the Pacific ocean where tiny bits of plastic outweigh zooplankton 6-1 near the surface. Fish full of mercury and other toxic stuff.
These tiny bits of plastic are being ingested by creatures at the bottom of the food chain. And these bits of plastic are like magnets which other toxins like PCBs stick too. That food chain leads to us at the top of the chain. Dead areas of the oceans from polution, oil spills, etc.
Species going extinct at an unprecented rate, not seen for millions of years. Only the great die offs hundreds of millions of years ago or the end of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago compares with what we have done in a less than two hundred years. Those previous die offs probably took hundreds of thousands of years or more.
And I have only mentioned perhaps .001 percent of the destruction that we are wreaking on the ecosystems.
What is more important, your ideology or the survival of the human species, and the millions of other species that we are 100% dependent on for our survival. Stop getting stuck on labels and preconceived notions that don't apply.

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