Coal River Mountain

Statement of Jim Hansen at 23 June 2009 Coal River Mountain rally.

Mountaintop removal ignites strong passions because local effects are obvious – pollution of air and water, effects on human health, destruction of the environment.

But another effect of coal mining, global climate change, will become important in the next few decades. Climate change will have large consequences for people who are alive today, especially children, and future generations.

President Obama speaks of “a planet in peril” for good reason. If we do not move rapidly to carbon-free energy, we will hand our children a planet that has passed climate tipping points. It will be a more desolate planet, with half or more species committed to extinction.

Burning all fossil fuels would destroy the future of young people and the unborn. Coal is the critical issue. Coal is the main cause of climate change. It is also the dirtiest fossil fuel. Air pollution, arsenic, and mercury from coal have devastating effects on human health and cause birth defects.

The science is clear. We must have a moratorium on new coal plants and phase out existing ones within the next 20 years. We should start with termination of mountaintop removal now. Coal from mountaintop removal provides only 7% of United States coal, less than the amount of coal that we export.

Why is the Administration not stopping mountaintop removal? Why do they advocate
halfway measures? Because of the political clout of coal in Washington, that’s why.

But coal did not elect Obama. Who helped Obama win the Iowa primary? Not coal, it was
young people. Who got out the vote in the general election – it was young people – young people who had hope – hope that we could have leaders who do the right thing, not what is politically expedient.

We must raise the pressure to do what is right – for our children and the planet – not for the wallets of the few. Continued mountaintop removal defeats the purpose of the administration’s effort to fight climate change.

And mountaintop removal poisons water supplies and pollutes the air. Coal ash piles are so toxic and unstable that Homeland Security has declared that the location of the nation’s 44 most hazardous coal ash sites must be kept secret. They fear terrorists will find ways to spill the toxic substances. But storms and heavy rain can do the same.

President Obama remains the best hope, perhaps the only hope, for real change. If the
President used his influence, his eloquence, his bully pulpit, he could be the agent of real change. But he needs our help to overcome the political realities of compromise.

Politicians may choose to advocate for halfway measures. But it is our responsibility to make sure our representatives feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not what some judge as “winnable”.

We must make clear to Congress, to EPA, to the Obama administration that we the people want mountaintop removal terminated and we want a move toward rapid phase-out of coal emissions. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries is over. It is time for citizens to demand – yes, we can.

More information at this
link (PDF).


Doctor James Hansen, an adjunct professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Sciences. His website can be found at:
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