‘Clean coal’ doesn’t exist; let’s use renewable energy

If you woke up in Charleston, W.Va., last week, you would not have been able to take a shower or brush your teeth at the bathroom tap. You’d have made your coffee with bottled water if you were lucky enough to find it and had enough left over after sponge-bathing your children with it and giving a little to your dog. Your children would not have been able to go to school, and you could not have washed clothes or dishes. Your local hospitals would have been in emergency mode. You might have been laid off from work.

Why? A chemical called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol leaked into the water supply, and the region’s water will not be safe until the contamination is less than one part in a million.

This chemical is used to wash coal before shipping it to power plants. So there are three ways that there is no such thing as “clean coal,” regardless of the corporate-funded feel-good commercials about it. Coal mining in West Virginia uses mountaintop removal. Ancient mountains are simply destroyed. The air, land and rivers are decimated by the debris of blasting, a process that involves very few jobs. Then the coal is treated with the dangerous chemical that triggered this water emergency. Finally, coal-fired power plant smokestacks emit many harmful substances: carcinogens and neurotoxins like mercury, arsenic and lead, contributing factors to breathing disorders like soot and carbon monoxide, and massive quantities of carbon dioxide that contribute to potentially devastating climate change. The human health costs of coal emissions are in the billions of dollars, and the costs to our planet’s health are almost impossible to calculate.

There are clean, affordable and job-producing alternatives right now. With present technology, wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower could supply all our energy needs without health and environmental hazards and at lower costs than fossil fuels, when all the real costs are included. Don’t believe what the fossil fuel industry tells you. Let’s leave it in the ground and build a life-sustaining energy future now.

Ellen C. Banks