Letter At Length

Coal accidents a signal to take the power back

In the last two months alone there have been numerous major accidents involving coal. First, a ship carrying coal went off course and crashed into a protected marine reserve within the Great Barrier Reef, spilling countless barrels of oil into this delicate ecosystem. Then there was an explosion in a U.S. coal mine and a mine collapse in China, resulting in 39 deaths among mine workers. Last week, two more coal miners were killed when the roof collapsed in a mine with numerous safety violations. And recently the headline said, "Explosion at Turkish coal mine traps 32 workers."

Coal mining is one of the deadliest professions around the world, with more than 6,000 deaths among coal miners in China in 2004 and 47 in the U.S. in 2006. In addition to accidental death, coal miners experience substantially reduced life expectancy from inhaling dangerous pollutants throughout their lifetimes.

When you consider the health impacts of not only coal extraction, but also of coal combustion in power plants, coal is responsible for thousands if not millions of lives and livelihoods lost each year. Coal combustion results in 24,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S. from air and water pollution. Exposure to pollution from coal has also been clearly proven to cause reduced IQ in children. In a recent USGS study, every single freshwater fish sampled throughout the U.S. had elevated mercury levels from pollution from coal-fired power plants. The impacts of coal are both severe and pervasive.

James Hansen, the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says, "Coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet." He says this not because of the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal mining, which are severe, but because of the proportional contribution of coal combustion to global warming. Ending the use of coal would provide a single, relatively simple approach to keeping global warming at scientifically identified "safe" levels, even if we were to continue to use all the oil and gas from conventional sources (although we probably don't want to do that after last week's well blowout and oil spill).

So here we are in Ashland, a hotbed of progressive ideas and supposedly enlightened thinking yet does anyone know where our power comes from? You got it: coal. Ashland contracts with the Bonneville Power Administration, which has a mix of sources, about 20 percent of which come from coal. That's not bad compared to the rest of the Rogue Valley, which gets up to 70 percent of its power from coal. But it's still a substantial contribution to global warming, pollution of air and water, and impacts to human health and intelligence. We can do better — much, much better.

We urge Ashland residents to demand an end to all coal in their power mix. Because Ashland has a public electric utility, it has the opportunity to shop around for power that comes from clean sources. Residents can voice their opposition to coal, they can buy Green tags to support green energy development, they can educate their neighbors in other parts of the Rogue Valley so they also demand an end to coal, and they can install their own power generating systems to become self-reliant in their energy needs.

If you live in an area with Pacific Power, like Talent, you can check the box for the Blue Sky program (it costs just pennies more — it's worth it!) to support renewable energy development. Most importantly, residents and businesses can conserve energy to reduce their reliance on coal. Ending coal mining and combustion in the United States is absolutely the right thing to do for both current and future generations. To reach that goal we will need to start demanding an end to power from coal in our own communities.

Marni Koopman, Ashland

Richard Nauman, Talent

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