I remember as a young boy my mother took me and my brother on a mystery tour. We weren’t a well off single parent family, as you could imagine, and so we didn’t go more than 2 hours outside of Melbourne city proper. We went to visit, amongst other things, the coal-fired power station in Yallourn, consisting of the state’s third largest power station and the largest open cut coalmine in Australia.
I can still remember the tour across the mine floor, watching the massive trucks and diggers; it is, quite simply, a stunning array of big. Some 15 years later, and my opinion of the site itself would still remain the same, though now it would be tinged with the reality of what such a location is doing to the world around me.
Many miles away from home, for me at least, America is currently in the midst of a battle that has nothing to do with Iraq (wait for the irony in that statement).
In federal and state courtrooms across the country environmental groups with lawyers in toe are bringing the coal-fueled energy groups to task. As of today there are currently around 50 power plants being contested across 29 American states.
From everything including lawsuits, administrative appeals, lobbying pressure on state and federal regulators, the coordinated offensive by environmental organizations is seen as a major stage on which the debate over global warming will be waged.
“Our goal is to oppose these projects at each and every stage, from zoning and air and water permits, to their mining permits and new coal railroads,” said Bruce Nilles, a Sierra Club attorney who directs the group’s national coal campaign. “They know they don’t have an answer to global warming, so they’re fighting for their life.”
So far environmental groups are calling in their favor a total of 59 productions canceled, delayed or blocked. But the coal industry is in the middle of a construction boom not seen in America in decades. Bruce Nilles pointed towards the Sierra Club’s $1 million spent in 2007 on such legal campaigns, and notes that they hope to increase that to $10 million for 2008. Again though, the coal industry is investing their own finances in a promotional campaign launched by industry group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. Having spent $15 million in the past year, they’re going to ratchet that up to $35 million for 2008.
It is this sort of political motivation that the environmental groups must combat. In addition, industry representatives fearfully believe that environmentalists are going to bring America to its proverbial knees. They predict high prices and rolling blackouts if the groups do not cease.
“These projects won’t be denied, but they can be delayed by those who oppose any new energy projects,” said Vic Svec, vice president of the mining and power company Peabody Energy.
Observers dispute such doomsday claims, but one and all must see just how reliant America and many other countries are upon coal.
Coal provides for just over 50% of America’s electricity, a figure which is predicted to grow to 60% in the next two decades, according to the Bush administration. Many within the industry see that without a growth in coal production the nation will indeed suffer from power outages across an already fragile power-grid.
But some environmentalists like to believe that the sudden rush to increase the amount of power stations is to beat any of the seven bills that are currently pending before congress, which would end up restricting carbon dioxide emissions.
The power deficit by which the coal industry representatives explain the sudden boom is based upon projections made by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Speaking for NERC vice president David Nevius said his group will stay neutral as to what plants should be built to meet this deficit. “We’re not saying the lights will go out. We’re just saying additional resources are needed,” Nevius said. “We don’t say coal over gas over wind over solar.”
For many of us though, the best we can say is that “Yes, we are too dependent on coal.” Sadly, until governments provide ease of construction to wind-farms, solar farms and hydro-electricity generation, there will be nothing for us to do but sit and watch. One can only hope that governments will see the need for action, and act.
In a world where many believe America went to Iraq to secure energy reserves, could their other big war be fought over the other side of the coin?
AP via MSNBC – Coal power goes on trial across U.S.
Photo Courtesy of Wolfiewolf via Flickr