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Left Out in the Coal

Left Out in the Coal

On Friday the US House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the HR 3049, The Stop the War on Coal Act. This act is comprised of five separate pieces of legislation, which all take aim at the common sense regulations put in place to protect the environment from the dirtiest energy sources.

Coal has been used by humans for thousands of years but became the source of energy needed to power complex machinery in the industrial revolution thus paving the way for many contemporary technologies we take for granted today. However, it is also incredibly costly to society and the environment. It releases more emissions into the air than any other fossil fuel for the same amount of energy produced and can cause severe health problems for anyone near where it is being mined much less in the mines themselves. At this point, efforts to make it cleaner are semantic distinctions rather than significant improvements to the technology. The average age of a coal-fired power plant in the US is 43 years old and half of all plants were built before 1967; plants of this age require significant upgrades and retrofits just to meet current energy and environmental standards. HR3049 is a way to keep the status quo energy policies of decades ago and save the coal industry from its inevitable obsolescence.

The problem with moving beyond coal is its abundance particularly in the United States and China, which makes it cheap and hard to compete against. In the mid-20th century, the proliferation of nuclear power plants provided a possible alternative to coal as a source of power. However, after the disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, nuclear power fell out of political favor and coal continued to dominate the industry. At this point we are stuck in a transitional phase between coal and what will come next. Setting aside nuclear energy, there is no viable technology today which can produce carbon-free electricity on a scale large enough to feed our entire country’s energy demands. Nuclear Fusion is finally estimated to be moving closer to viability after decades of little progress but is still 20 years away. Safer forms of nuclear fission reactors have started to promulgate around the world but some of the best technologies in this regard are also 20 years of development from deployment. With these facts, it is easy to resort to coal for energy, but it is not in our best interest—quite the opposite.

HR 3049 has been referred to by its proponents as a bill to protect and create energy jobs. Whether it will succeed in this is beside the point. Coal is not the solution to our economic crisis or a means to build an energy grid for the future. We may not be able to completely eliminate our dependence on coal for the next few decades, but we can minimize it by investing in clean energy sources like wind and solar. Study after study have shown that green jobs in the energy sector have been growing despite the recession and with a little help can mature into a large scale source of clean energy reducing our nation’s carbon emissions and creating jobs simultaneously.

Judaism teaches us to be good stewards of the planet, a notion in direct contradiction to the problems that will be wrought if this bill becomes law. Tell your congressmen to vote against HR 3049 and to focus instead on creating clean energy jobs and reducing our carbon emissions.

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Published: 9/20/2012

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