Dirty Coal Has Left the Building

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Huffington Post

Dirty Coal Has Left the Building

The great snow storm has passed. The clouds are parting. The sun is breaking through. Those tiny ripples of hope, that Robert Kennedy once invoked, are beginning to gather near Capitol Hill.

The Capitol Power Plant: It was built at the same time the first Ford Model T cars rolled onto the streets. A century later, the Capitol plant will finally end its use of coal in the age of the iPhone and Blackberry.

There's a new era in Washington, DC--a clean energy era. And with an Obama administration that wants to double our renewable energy production in three years, and has called for cap 'n trade legislation to limit carbon emissions, thousands of clean energy and coalfield activists are converging on the snow-swept streets of Washington, DC today to remind Capitol Hill that a growing and incredibly organized movement is ready to make this new clean energy era a reality.

The Capitol Climate Action today is more than a historic protest against coal, coal-fired plants and their role in climate change. It's a celebration of a road map to end our dependence on our nation's dirtiest fossil fuel.

For up-to-date information, see: capitolclimateaction.org

The denials of coal's dirty past are over: Thousands of citizens are prepared to engage in civil disobedience at the Capitol Power Plant today to make clear the sense of urgency in dealing with climate change legislation and policy in an effective and timely manner.

In anticipation of this first mass act of civil disobedience in our nation's history around climate change, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have asked the Acting Architect of the Capitol to end the use of coal at the Capitol plant as "an important demonstration of Congress' willingness to deal with the enormous challenges of global warming, energy independence and our inefficient use of finite fossil fuels."

That's one small step for Congress; one giant leap for the nation, if we continue to retire the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired plants at a similar pace.

In the meantime, at the other 635 coal-fired plants, over 40 percent of our nation's carbon dioxide emissions continue to erupt from electricity plant silos like as silent volcanoes of death.

The urgency of this movement rings with a new message: We all live in the coalfields now.

At the historic Powershift09 conference this weekend in Washington, DC, where over 12,000 students and clean energy activists gathered for a whirlwind of panels, workshops and speeches, scores of experts and community organizers in coal mining and coal-fired plant areas provided some dramatic backstory to the growing movement against climate destabilization.

Elisa Young, a farm resident from Meigs County, spoke about the spike in cancer and asthma in an area beset with five coal-fired plants in southern Ohio. According to one recent study, men in Meigs County have the lowest life expectancy rate in the state.

Judy Bonds, from the Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia, showed how near 500 mountains in central Appalachia have been toppled into the valleys, as part of mountaintop removal mining, wiping out 1,200 miles of streams, depopulating and ruining historic mountain hamlets and economies, and contaminating watersheds.

The human costs of mountaintop removal have emerged as the most egregious violation of human rights in the region in our lifetimes.

Chris Martin, a student from Tennessee, reminded the audience that the TVA coal ash leakages in his area last December brought out the fact that more than half of our nation's population and their water sources rest within a half hour drive of an unregulated coal ash pond and potential catastrophe.

According to the American Lung Association, 24,000 Americans die prematurely from coal-fired plant pollution each year. Another 550,000 asthma attacks, 38,000 heart attacks and 12,000 hospital admissions are also attributed to coal-fired plants.

In 1895, newspapers ran ads for smoke-free "clean coal" in Chicago, as the boom in coal-fired plant electricity was about to launch a new era.

Over a century later, those same "clean coal" ads are still running, and the dirty coal denials are taking place.

The convergence on the Capitol Power Plant in Washington, DC, marks a new era in confronting these denials.

While applauding President Barack Obama's commitment renewable energy, coalfield activists and clean energy advocates are directly addressing a president still beholden to the chimera of "clean coal," its devastating extraction counterparts and dirty coal's underlining role in the silent tsunami of climate destabilization.

For those suffering the consequence of dirty coal's legacy, the time has arrived to put an end to the "clean coal" scams of the coal lobby, which not only jeopardize any efforts to pass effective climate legislation before the world climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, but continue the devastation of coal mining in Appalachia, the Midwest and the West.

"What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future," Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the UN's International Panel on Climate Change, has declared.

It's time for dirty coal to leave the building.

Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers is the author of The United States of Appalachia, and more recently, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (The Nation/Basic Books). Follow him on twitter: @JeffRBiggers

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