I’ve lost track of how many blogs there are that deal in some way with the swirling issues and growing controversies surrounding the coal industry. So does the world really need another one?
Well, I sure hope so.
Coal helped to build industrial America, powered our nation through two world wars, and is still an important part of the economy in coalfield communities from West Virginia to Wyoming. And, as industry supporters and their billboards remind us, coal keeps the lights on in about half of all American households.
But the downside of coal becomes more and more apparent each day.
Over the last three years, a string of mine disasters — Sago, Aracoma,Â Darby and Crandall Canyon — reminded us of the very real human cost to miners and their families.Â Just before this past Christmas, the collapse of the TVA coal-ash dam in Tennessee showed us again that there’s really nothing that clean about coal.
Earlier this week, the New York Times’ blog, Green Inc, observed that it’s been a tough week for coal. Among other things, the Times cited the Air Force’s cancellation of plans for a coal-to-liquids fuel plant in Montana, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s call for a moratorium on new coal plants, and a $140 million Clean Air Act settlement by utilities in Kentucky. (Closer to home, the Times also noted yesterday’s big protests against Massey Energy, and a new lawsuit over contaminated drinking water supplies).
But with a few exceptions, most of the blogging out there about coal comes from either the industry’s most vocal opponents (see Coal is Dirty or the Front Porch) or from coal industry boosters such as Behind the Plug.
So maybe it’s time for one of the few daily newspapers in the country that still covers the coal industry on a regular basis to get into the game, to take the leap into the blogosphere.
We’ll still be doing plenty of coal stories in the daily print edition, as well as longer projects on the industry in the Sunday edition. But the blog format will allow the Gazette to get information out more quickly, and to help foster the growing national — really, international — discussion about the future of coal.
With that in mind, one thing that I want to note is that it seems that there are really two separate discussions going on about coal.
One of them is out there in the broader world. Scientists, policymakers and even investors are becoming more and more convinced that the downsides of coal have to be addressed. One way or the other, coal-fired power’s contribution to global warming must be dealt with. To these folks, the question is: Can coal have a place in our energy mix in a carbon-constrained world?
The other discussion is happening here in West Virginia, and in other coal communities. Locally, the issues are different, and in many ways much more emotional. It’s a battle between families who rely on coal to put food on their tables and send their kids to college, and folks who live near coal mines and are tired of blasting, dust, and water pollution. To these folks, the questions are: How can we protect coal’s future or how can we shut down mountaintop removal?
These two discussions are starting to intersect a little bit. Activists who don’t like mountaintop removal are talking more and more about climate change. But there’s still a huge disconnect between the way the broader world talks about coal and the way we here in the coalfields do.
Perhaps the scientists and activists who understand what coal burning is doing to our climate should try to understand a little more about how a third-generation coal miner in Eastern Kentucky feels. And maybe that coal miner should be a little more open to hearing what the world would be like if we don’t do something about rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.Â Most importantly, maybe the policymakers in Washington need to understand what the economic impact of climate change regulations is going to be on places like West Virginia and Wyoming. And maybe politicians and government officials in places like Charleston, W.Va., need to come to terms with the fact that change is coming to this industry.
I hope this blog contributes a little bit to helping these discussions along. I welcome thoughts, comments, suggestions and criticisms on how to get this job done.