The coal industry and their army of lobbyists always made sure that enough palms were greased in Washington so that whatever rules and regulations were passed always favored them. To have friends in high places was an asset, but it was bought with the blood and lives of countless of miners working under dangerous and difficult conditions where productivity was always primary.

The Bush administration was a trusted friend of Big Coal. Catering to their every wish, regulations pertaining to the coal industry were either eliminated or so severely weakened as to make them useless. Coal companies were allowed to remove mountain tops where the overburden was blasted away and bulldozed into the valleys and streams below in order to reach the underlying coal seams. They forced retreat mining where the columns of coal supporting the roofs of mines thousands of feet underground were removed allowing the roofs to collapse as the miners retreated (and were killed, like at Crandall Canyon, Utah.)

Environmental concerns? Health? Safety? They have always taken a back seat where coal mining – and profits – were concerned.

New direction

The election of Obama and his appointments to head the EPA, the Departments of Energy and Labor shows that his administration is taking the issue of climate change, environmental destruction and workers rights seriously. Many of the regulations that were eliminated or severely weakened so as to make them useless have been reinstated and others are under review.

Science back in White House

The Obama administration has pledged to put science back into the White House. The selection and conformation of Stephen Chu a Nobel Prize winning physicist to head the DoE is certainly a step in the right direction. As an ardent critic of our over-reliance on carbon-based fuels and a supporter of the development and use of alternative and sustainable energy systems, the selection of Dr. Chu gives hope to the people of the world that the United States will take the lead in the effort to decrease CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

Coal is plentiful and is relatively cheap. It is a major source of energy for a majority of world’s people and is not going to be replaced as an energy source without a struggle.

From countries that have vast reserves to coal companies profiting from its sale to the utilities using “cheap” fuel, to the builders of power plants to the miners all have a vested interest in keeping coal on the menu.

An oxymoron

As the real costs of using coal as the primary source of energy starts to be realized there is an effort by some scientists and the coal lobbyists to promote the concept of “clean coal.”

To its proponents clean coal means burning the coal, capturing the combustion gases and sequestering them permanently deep under ground.

To its detractors it is an unproven technology that gives the green light for the construction of more coal-fired power plants.

Clean coal is an oxymoron, at no place in the coal cycle, from extraction to combustion to waste disposal, is the process clean. It is also dangerous.

The breaching of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal ash slurry pond retaining wall creating a massive flood and knocking homes off their foundations, sending millions of gallons of contaminated sludge into the Tennessee and Emory Rivers is a prime example.

Job loss and creation

As the transition away from coal to more sustainable and environmentally friendly sources begins, the loss of jobs in the mining industry must be accompanied by an equal amount of good paying jobs in the energy industries of the future. Is there a miner who would not trade his dangerous underground job for one above ground if the pay and benefits were equal? I think not.

Conservation needed

Since coal as an energy source is not going to go away anytime soon the best thing that countries can do is reduce its use is through conservation. Implementation of conservation policies in its many forms would prevent millions of tons of CO2 yearly from entering the atmosphere.

Scientists tell us that the world has coal reserves for hundreds of years at today’s rate of consumption. That may be true, but life as we know it does not have that luxury.

What better way is there to sequester carbon in the form of coal than the way that Mother Nature did? Leave it there!