The Latest On: Coal
President Obama won the White House on a platform of hope and change – promising an end to dirty corporate influence over our political system and a beginning to an era in which our energy choices lead us to a clean, sustainable future, or at least don’t kill us or make us sick.
So far, the president’s performance has been mixed – with some deliveries on the promise and some disappointments. His last year, whether in office or in his first term, will be crucial in righting his spotty record and making good on his campaign promises to the American people.
The historic victory for clean air announced a few days ago—limits on the mercury, arsenic and other toxic emissions from coal plants—has been a long time coming. Congress called for these limits in 1990, but the coal power industry got to work undermining them straight away. As a result, instead of getting the breath of fresh air promised by Congress, Americans living in the shadow of a smokestack have been getting daily lungfuls of toxic air for 21 years.
"It's like hell. Living in hell," says Marti Blake, when asked about being neighbors with a coal-fired power plant. "It's filthy, it's dirty, it's noisy, it's unhealthy."
For the past 21 years, Blake has lived across the street from the Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale, PA. A family situation left her trying to find a place quickly, and a simple brick home in the small town only 20 minutes from Pittsburgh seemed fine.
This Friday, the Obama administration has the historic opportunity to rein in a coal industry that has been allowed to pour toxic emissions like mercury, benzene and arsenic into our lives without limit.
There’s little question that the administration will set limits – the law requires it and the courts have ordered it. The question, and the opportunity facing Obama, is how strong those limits will be.
As fall turns to winter, President Obama has continued his virtually unbroken streak of bending over backwards for the coal industry in the West. For those who love Western public lands and could do without more subsidies to Big Coal, Mr. Obama has been more Grinch than Santa.
Climate change skeptics, industries in denial, regulators avoiding environmental cleanup… They all sound alike when it comes to evidence of environmental harm. They argue there isn't enough data. They insist the data is skewed. They see no reason to take action on some of the most obvious negative impacts of industrial activity.