Coal and the Value of Human Life

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans   Reading about the emerging push to ease pollution controls on coal burning by the now ill-named Environmental Protection Agency which is proposing to in fact not protect the public is profoundly disturbing.  The proposal from the former coal and energy lobbyist now directing the EPA is going to be something between turning any regulation over to individual states to no regulation at all, which might be what some states like Kentucky and West Virginia opt to implement.

As I was reading these headlines, I was also editing an essay for potential inclusion in Social Policy Press’s coming volume, Lessons from the Field:  Campaigns, that will include twenty or more pieces from organizers about the lessons learned and the steps forward in building winning campaigns at the local, state, and national level on an array of issues.  More than forty years ago in 1977, ACORN’s partner organization, the Institute for Social Justice, had published “Community Organizing Handbook #2” and Steve Kest and I had authored a long essay looking at the history and trajectory of ACORN in the 1970’s that included a half-dozen or so snapshot case studies of various seminal early-ACORN campaigns in Arkansas.  One was our mammoth effort in opposing the Arkansas Power & Light’s proposal as a division of Middle South Utilities now called Entergy, to build what would have been then the world’s largest coal-fired 2800 mw power plant at White Bluff on the Arkansas River near the town of Redfield about half way between Pine Bluff and Little Rock.

The proposal almost seems more ridiculous in hindsight now.  Initially, AP&L proposed to build a slurry pipeline that would suck water out of the arid west to flush the coal down to Arkansas from the Fort Union coal deposit lying under northwestern Wyoming and parts of Montana and North Dakota.  ACORN’s initial local groups, worried about the rising cost of their utilities, were joined with new organizations of farmers we organized along the wind stream of the plant.  Continuing the absurdity, even in those less environmentally informed times, at one point the company was arguing to the farmers that the sulfur and other particulates raining on them, their families and fields, would save them money as free fertilizer.   The company chartered a plane to go see the Paradise plant in Kentucky, famous in the John Prine song, and I went along with some of our farmers, the pols, and company flacks of the flight. They hadn’t done the research that we did on the number of pollution violations and fines the plant had provoked.  We wanted the Public Service Commission to force the plant to install scrubbers on the plants to reduce the pollution, and the company didn’t want to pay for them.  When all was said and done we won a reduction of the plant to half its size along with pollution controls that exist now, but it’s still a coal burning plant fueled by100-car coal trains.

Now forty years later for the sake of some votes, campaign donations, and a few jobs all the lessons known and learned are supposed to be ignored.  This despite the government saying that the impact of these new rules will kill 1400 people every year, shortening their lives by making them breathe crap.  Are some votes and energy campaign contributions enough to ever  justify killing 14 people every year, much less 1400?  And, I haven’t even mentioned climate change have I?


Please enjoy Again and Again by the Dave Matthews Band.

Thanks to KABF.