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CRMW and allied groups dispel myth of “clean coal”
The Fall 2005 issue of OnEarth Magazine, published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), carried the cover headline “Coal Comes Clean(er)” for the article “How to Clean Coal” by Craig Canine (www.nrdc.org/onearth/05fal/toc.asp). CRMW and the rest of the Friends of the Mountains were surprised, especially as we consider NRDC an ally and they were a co-litigant with CRMW and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in our winning lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers last year (which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court later overturned). We sent them a letter expressing our concerns, a portion of which they printed in their winter issue.

In November, the Virtual March to Stop Global Warming made a stop at the Wabash River power plant in Indiana, praising efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. We were greatly concerned that new power plants increase demand for coal, regardless of what comes out of the smokestack, and thereby increase MTR. What this shows is that the “clean coal” lie is spreading and growing like a cancer and that we must all challenge this term.

To fight the lie, CRMW generated a letter that we circulated to several groups and key individuals for support. We launched the letter with a press release and press conference December 14, with over 70 signatories including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., regional Sierra Club chapters, and Greenpeace USA. Groups from 12 countries signed on. Below is the letter. To view the list of signatories or sign on, go to www.crmw.net.

Dear Conscientious Citizens and Organizations,

Recent media reports promoting integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal power plants and coal fuel liquefaction as clean energy sources seriously undermine the movement in Appalachia to save our homes, communities, and environment from the ravages of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. Even IGCC plants add pollutants and greenhouse gases rather than replacing older plants. Research funding for unproven, risky ideas such as carbon sequestration would be better spent on solar and wind solutions. But regardless of new coal plants’ methods, the nightmares created by MTR will haunt our homeland forever. There is no such thing as clean coal technology as long as coal is produced by raping the land and oppressing the people.

The MTR process begins with clear-cutting thousands of acres of some of the world’s most biologically diverse temperate hardwood forests. Much of the timber is either burned or buried. Then, tons of explosives, the same mix used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, are detonated to loosen the rock. Three million pounds per day are currently detonated in West Virginia alone. In a week’s time, this is nearly the same net explosive force used on Hiroshima. And this goes on week after week.

Then, the topsoil and rubble are dumped into nearby valleys. These valley fills have buried or negatively impacted over 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams so far. Valley fills often fail, causing damage to nearby homes and streams. The coal is extracted layer by layer, and then coal companies “reclaim” the land by coating it with a thin layer of topsoil substitute and nonnative grass seed. Over 600 square miles of West Virginia’s mountains have been leveled this way.

The barren land, devoid of trees, undergrowth, topsoil, and natural drainage, sheds rainwater to create catastrophic floods. A dozen people have been killed in recent years, and hundreds of homes destroyed or damaged. West Virginia recently led the nation in FEMA relief, relief that rarely covers damages to homes and land. People whose families have lived in the same area for hundreds of years have been displaced, adding cultural devastation to the physical devastation.

The coal is prepared for market in processing plants that use a mysterious mix of chemicals to remove impurities. The washed-out heavy metals and cleaning compounds are stored in multibillion-gallon toxic waste ponds—sludge dams—placed precariously above homes, communities, and schools. One of these dams failed at Buffalo Creek, WV, in 1972, killing 125 people. Another failed in Kentucky in 2000, polluting over 100 miles of streams, killing 1.6 million fish, and destroying water supplies for 27,000 people. Over 150 of these dams threaten the residents of southern West Virginia, including the 230 students at Marsh Fork Elementary School attending class 400 yards from a seeping, 2.8 billion-gallon dam. These students also breathe coal dust from the coal silo loading trains 220 feet from their school. The list of problems goes on and on.

As friends and allies in the defense of Earth and all Humanity, we ask you to heed our call. All of us who care about the health of our children and our planet must identify, challenge, and eliminate the oxymoron "clean coal" when we see or hear it. We invite you to join our fight against those who plunder our planet and poison our children. Join us in fighting mountaintop removal, fighting dirty coal power plants, and supporting renewable energy. We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Janice Nease
Executive Director
Coal River Mountain Watch

We the undersigned are opposed to the use of the term "Clean Coal" and opposed to destructive mining practices. We support truly renewable energy technologies because coal is so destructive in its mining, processing, and combustion.
(See signatories at www.crmw.net)

©2005

Coal River 

Mountain Watch