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Editorial Page Roundup: Debunking the "War On Coal"

Pete Altman

Posted June 29, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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The familiar saying is that “in war, the first casualty is truth.”   But you could say exactly the same thing about the misguided assault on the common-sense efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update clean air standards that protect our health.

Take the phrase now being promoted by utility and coal industry lobbyists:   “the war on coal.”

Judging from some media coverage, one might conclude that everyone in the shadow of a coal-bearing mountain or the headquarters building of a major utility believes that the EPA is out to take away their ability to make a living.

The truth is that if you look at America’s editorial pages, you can see that isn't so. Across the country, including in coal states, attempts to convince people of a bald-faced lie are falling short. 

Consider this editorial from the Lexington Herald Leader in the coal-producing state of Kentucky:

Can’t turn back the clock: Foaming about EPA won’t build a prosperous future for Ky.,  06/24/12. After Arch Coal’s announcement of 750 lay-offs in Kentucky and West Virginia, some will claim vindication for their anti-regulation warnings. Others will see confirmation that the region must free itself from coal’s yoke and diversify economically to prepare for the industry’s inevitable decline in Appalachia. Almost all of Kentucky’s political leaders belong to the first camp. Republicans were especially eager to scapegoat a Democratic president and his EPA … "Friends of coal" has always had a curious ring since a rock can't reciprocate friendship. The hills of Appalachia, where the coal industry has reigned over this country's deepest poverty for 100 years, are full of people and places who really do need friends. They also need leaders who, like the senator from West Virginia, respect them enough to tell the truth.

Of course, nothing says coal like “West Virginia,” but the anti-EPA crowd did not get a boost from The Charleston Gazette:

Go forward, not back, on coal, 06/20/12. On West Virginia Day, Jay Rockefeller stood up in the U.S. Senate and told the truth: "The shift to a lower-carbon economy is not going away, and it's a disservice to coal miners and their families to pretend that it is." West Virginians should take Rockefeller’s words to heart. Rockefeller criticized those in the coal industry who spend a fortune whipping up fear in coal mining communities instead of planning for their own future. West Virginia can stand with eyes closed, ears covered and wish for the past, or it can follow Sen. Rockefeller’s lead and make a place in the future.

And then there is this editorial from Akron Beacon Journal, just across town from the home office of FirstEnergy, a major U.S. utility … and polluter:

Mercury mission, 06/24/12. On Wednesday, a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate beat back an effort to block the new regulations. Sen. Sherrod Brown sided with advocates of the new rules. The record of the past four decades of environmental legislation has been plain. For all the warnings about ruin, the overall benefits have far exceeded the costs, the economy expanding by more than 200 percent. The new mercury rules promise to be no different, according to the calculations. The Clean Air Act places the priority on public health. For 20 years or more, regulators and industry executives have known the restrictions were coming, and that they were necessary.

The nearby Toledo Blade was equally firm in its editorial views:

Keep mercury rule, 06/20/12. The Natural Resources Defense Council argues that a rollback of the mercury regulation “would penalize industries that have modernized while rewarding the laggards.” For that reason and many others, the Senate should vote today to affirm the EPA regulation.

You will find much the same one in this editorial in Pennsylvania’s Scranton Times-Tribune:

Casey’s vote helps clear air,   06/24/12. More than 60 percent of coal-fired plants nationwide already have invested in the required technology. There was no reason to exempt the others, especially because the technology readily is available and the toxins involved, especially mercury, are some of the most dangerous. The challenge for the coal-fired generation industry is the marketplace itself, rather than regulation. Mr. Casey, Mr. Rockefeller and their colleagues deserve credit for voting for cleaner air and for forcing the coal industry to move forward.

The truth is that editorial pages across America leaned heavily in favor of the EPA and against U.S. Senators who kowtowed to lobbyists for the coal and utilities industry:

Unhealthy politics: On mercury and soot, the EPA is a strong guardian, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, (editorial), 06/17/12. Forced by a federal court to abide by the Clean Air Act, the EPA last week updated its air quality standards for fine-particle pollution, including soot. The new standard would lower the amount of soot permitted from diesel trucks, buses and power plants. The American people are going to hear a lot about "red tape" before November, but they also should think about red corpuscles and take a deep breath. Is that air good enough to fill their lungs?

Keep it clean, The Miami Herald, (editorial), 06/18/12. The MATS standards, created to be flexible to clean up coal-burning smokestacks, are the first federally mandated limits on power plants’ emissions. They’re long overdue. As the American Lung Association points out, “The Clean Air Act required the EPA to address toxic air pollution from power plants in 1990. It has taken over 20 years to get to this point.”  Everyone loses when we sacrifice our lungs, lives and wallets to ignore well-documented health risks of mercury and other toxins spewed by power plants.

Editorial: Alexander once again stands up for clean air, Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel, (editorial), 06/18/12. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has been consistent in his support for clean air in Tennessee’s skies, even when it has brought the wrath of special-interest groups. Citizens of this state should stand with Alexander on this issue. Clean air has been an issue in East Tennessee for decades, and now is not the time to relax or reverse the rules. There is too much at stake for the state’s health, its economy and its future.

Stop mercury pollution, The (Syracuse, NY) Post-Standard, (editorial), 06/14/12.  The drive to limit mercury emissions from power plants dates back to the 1990 Clean Air Act. After years of study and lawsuits, in late 2011 the EPA finally issued the Utility Air Toxics Rule. That’s 20 years notice. Inhofe’s effort to block the rule should fail, as should a “compromise” that would delay implementation for six years. Coal-fired power plants have polluted long enough.

GOP’s environmental siege, The (Eugene, OR) Register-Guard, (editorial), 06/24/12. GOP lawmakers are trying to cut a broad swath through environmental regulations, including clean air and water protections stretching back to the Nixon presidency. Tea party Republicans, many of whom ran for office promising to eviscerate the EPA, are leading the charge, heedless of opinion polls that show a majority of Americans still want clean air and water, and support regulations to achieve those goals.

Yes, there is a “war” going on today.   Those who speak of the “war on coal” appear to have no qualms about sacrificing the health of millions of Americans and the environment in which they live and work.  Like all wars, the first casualty of those who warn of the “war on coal” is, indeed, the truth.

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