Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Coal In The Stocking - And The Drinking Water'

From DDay here.

The water main break in Montgomery County, Maryland had some compelling visuals to it, with water pouring from the ground and drivers trapped in their cars, so it received some treatment on the cable shoutcasts today. It's a good thing, too, because the rupture of a 44 year-old pipe causing this kind of chaos does show the need for infrastructure repairs, not only as part of a larger fiscal stimulus, but to avoid catastrophes and their ancillary costs, and to maintain vital services which will have tangible benefits for years to come.

But a massive coal ash spill like we saw today in Tennessee - the result of a burst dam at a private coal processing plant - is actually far more dangerous with far more lasting consequences, even if the visuals aren't as stellar.

You're talking about hundreds of acres of toxic sludge, the residue plants create by burning coal to produce energy, which includes mercury, arsenic and lead, spilling into the tributaries of the Tennessee River, poisoning the water supply for multiple communities, including Chattanooga.

And it's a direct result of our continued reliance on an industry that makes us sick but uses slick PR terms like "clean coal," happily parroted by politicians of both parties, to maintain viability.

“This spill shows that coal can never be ‘clean,’” said Kate Smolski, Senior Legislative Coordinator for Greenpeace. “If the Exxon Valdez was a symbol of pollution 20 years ago, the Tennessee Coal Spill of 2008 is the symbol of it today.”

Incredibly, this spill occurs at a time when the Bush Administration is trying to loosen environmental rules that would allow the coal industry to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining into nearby streams. In other words, they want to make a disaster like this the norm. Environmental groups are suing to stop them, but what will stop the coal companies from their inattention to basic safety?

It's key that we use the opportunity of major fiscal stimulus to improve crumbling infrastructure. It would also be nice if, in the process, we started taking a critical look at companies whose very existence threatens public health and the future of a sustainable planet. And making sure that existence doesn't continue. Coal is not clean.

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