Monday, May 4, 2009

More Coal in Kansas

While Bagyants sees this compromise as at least partially good (he also gives some details on the deal), I'm not happy with this deal. Feels like the last two years ... *sigh*. Coal is bad, mmkay? I recently wrote an article for the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas so I'm going to just post it unedited below. Since I'm not a politician and don't have to make these decisions, I can keep my point of view and express it whole.

Welcome to April! The sun has been shining, the air is getting warmer, snowflakes continue to drop on our cars, and Earth Day approaches reminding us we are a part of the environment, not above it. Living in Kansas, we are keenly aware Nature can and will overpower us and we must be respectful of that in order to survive. Our collective inability to apply this fact to more than tornadoes boggles the mind.

This month, Governor Sebelius vetoed, for the fourth time, a bill that would allow two new coal power plants to be built in Holcomb. As it becomes more difficult for these plants to be built, their parent company in Colorado is beginning to back out of coal and invest in more “green” sources of power. The current recession and a national push for clean energy makes this decision wise. And will allow Kansans to breath a little easier.

Keeping our environment clean may not seem like an issue for the Peace and Social Justice Center. Coal is incredibly danger to mine. Workers in coal mines suffer serious health conditions and put their lives at immediate risk every time they enter the mine. Unfortunately, these mines oftimes provide the only economy for communities, especially throughout Appalachia.

As our demand for energy rises, energy companies try to provide ways to bring us more energy with less money. Surface mining, safer and less expensive than traditional coal mines, destroy all vegetation in their area. Even cheaper mountaintop removal destroys most of a mountain to get at the coal inside. The soil and rock from the mountain is left in the valleys leading to contamination of local water sources. Mountaintop removal drives up unemployment in these areas. McDowell County, West Virginia, is the largest coal producing county in the state with 37% of residents living below the poverty line. While coal in Kansas generally comes from Wyoming which strip mines its coal, all demand for energy affects Appalachia.

Locally, the burning of coal has devastating effects on humans and long-lasting effects on the world around us. Coal plants produce carbon dioxide, mercury, lead, cadmium, thorium, and uranium. The Holcomb plants would require over 5 billion gallons of water a year from the Ogallala aquifer. Ogallala provides water to portions of 8 states, including western Kansas. More water is taken from it than goes into it. As we use more of its water for crop irrigation and public use, the available water drops and complex “water rights” immerge. The addition of these plants would further reduce the amount of water available to western Kansas for food crops.

Western Kansas has been in the grips of economic uncertainty for many years. Job creation continues to be the chief argument proponents use to move forward the building of the plants. But with the known health, environmental, and agricultural effects of these plants, is this the best option? And what are the long-term monetary costs?

The best solution for all of us is to reduce how much energy we use. While we all know this and do this in our own homes, we also must encourage businesses and government to take this to all corners of our lives. We must find effective, just, and economical ways to provide our energy, care for poverty-stricken communities, and provide the Earth as much as she has provided us.

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