Climatologist James Hansen Urges Obama to Ban Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining


photo: Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

There's no getting around the fact that there is absolutely no way mountaintop removal coal mining and environmental protection can go together. Unfortunately though the Obama administration and the EPA don't see things that way, recently merely tightening regulations on the practice. Now eminent climatologist and increasingly outspoken activist James Hansen, in an opinion piece for Yale Environment 360, sets out the case for banning the practice entirely:Hansen opens by reiterating what he has long stated, that coal is the main issue of climate change. We must stop burning coal, full stop, no more, if we are to have any chance of preventing runaway climate change.

Allowing Mountaintop Removal Mining Counter to Obama's Climate Change Stance
After calling the EPA's new regulatory stance a "minimal step", Hansen goes on to say,

The Obama administration is being forced into a political compromise. It has sacrificed a strong position on mountaintop removal in order to ensure the support of coal-state legislators for a climate bill. The political pressures are very real. But this is an approach to coal that defeats the purpose of the administration’s larger efforts to fight climate change, a sad political bargain that will never get us the change we need on mountaintop removal, coal or the climate. Coal is the linchpin in mitigating global warming, and it’s senseless to allow cheap mountaintop-removal coal while the administration is simultaneously seeking policies to boost renewable energy.

Though mountaintop removal mining supplies only 7% of the nation's coal, the devastation it causes is well out of proportion to the energy gained. Hansen says that by 2012 an area larger than the state of Delaware will be, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. 800 miles of streams in Appalachia have already been filled in with mining debris.

If Obama Can't Stop This, How Can We Expect Serious Emissions Reductions?
If you can somehow separate out the environmental damage (which I think is impossible except in the most abstract intellectual exercise), the greater issue according the Hansen is that a failure on the part of the Obama administration to stop such a destructive practice for so little energy really calls into doubt their ability to actually make the deep emissions cuts we need:

If the Obama administration is unwilling or unable to stop the massive environmental destruction of historic mountain ranges and essential drinking water for a relatively tiny amount of coal, can we honestly believe they will be able to phase out coal emissions at the level necessary to stop climate change? The issue of mountaintop removal is so important that I and others concerned about this problem will engage in an act of civil disobedience on June 23rd at a mountaintop removal site in Coal River Valley, West Virginia.

Experts agree that energy efficiency and carbon-free energies can satisfy our energy needs. Coal left in the ground is useful. It holds up the mountains, which, left intact, are an ideal site for wind energy. In contrast, mountaintop removal and strip mining of coal is a shameful abomination. Mining jobs have shrunk to a small fraction of past levels. With clean energy, there could be far more, green-energy jobs, and the government could support the retraining of miners, to a brighter, cleaner future.

Read all of Hansen's opinion piece: A Plea to President Obama - End Mountaintop Coal Mining
James Hansen
Coal Exec Challenges James Hansen to a Climate Change Debate
Climate Expert James Hansen Supports Cap-and-Dividend System
James Hansen Hopes Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade Bill Fails: Has He Lost the Plot?
Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
EPA to Regulate Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining More Stringently
Removing Mountaintops to Get Coal is Bad, But Dumping Fill in the Valleys is Even Worse

Tags: Barack Obama | Coal | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Causes | Pollution | United States

Best of TreeHugger