Dr. Steele, you’re being misled by the coal lobby

David Robinson
David Robinson

Editor’s note: On May 22, the Observer published an op-ed by Charles Steele Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference civil rights group. He argued against proposed EPA regulations governing coal-fired power plants, arguing they would hurt low-income people.

David Robinson, the chairman of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, responds with a letter to Steele:

I respectfully suggest that you are being misled by the coal lobby.

Coal production, use, and jobs in the U.S. have been in a decline for some years. There are various reasons for this but foremost is the growing concern that CO2 in the atmosphere generated by burning coal is beginning to have a profound negative impact on our climate. Most scientists and an increasing number of politicians recognize that the future does not lie with coal and other fossil fuels but with renewables and energy efficiency.

U.S. electric utilities have shuttered more than 50 coal-burning power plants during the past 10 years – and no new ones are being built. Many more are expected to retire in the coming years. Others are being converted to natural gas. Burning coal has created huge problems in North Carolina with millions of tons of coal ash stored near drinking water supplies, and low air quality creating many asthmatic children.

These are the primary reasons that the coal lobby is fighting so hard to protect its interests. They see darkness at the end of the tunnel.

You may have noticed that the ads promoting “clean coal,” which used to appear frequently, are no longer very common. This is because “clean coal” is neither proven nor viable given the low costs of natural gas.

Be forward-thinking on energy

You are absolutely correct that many families are struggling with financial insecurity. Increasing coal use and restricting the EPA will not help them.

What will help them is 1.) Allowing low cost solar to be installed on their homes so they are able to generate their own electricity and sell the excess back to the grid; 2.) Increasing the insulation and efficiency of their homes so that warmth in the winter and cooling in the summer are not quickly lost to the outside environment; and 3.) Creating construction jobs doing these installations and upgrades.

I recommend that you talk with Van Jones to learn about the projects he has been working on in Richmond, Calif., and other cities which do exactly this.

I would think that as a leader you want to be aligned with and supported by forward-looking people and organizations that care about our future. This characterization does not describe the coal lobby.

Good luck in your journey.