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Coal Use Drops to Record Lows While Clean Energy Soars

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It's amazing how much can change in a year. At this time in 2011, we were testing our hair for mercury as a way to encourage the EPA to adopt strong mercury pollution protections -- which the agency did. I was also celebrating generating my first clean kilowatt of energy from brand new solar panels on my home.

A mere one year later, some jaw-dropping numbers have just come in: In the first quarter of 2012, coal made up just 36 percent of U.S. electricity generation -- down from nearly 45 percent from the same period in 2011. That's a 9 percent drop in U.S. coal use in just one year.

The report, released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), had even more bad news for big polluters. Electricity generation from coal may drop another 14 percent this year. The EIA also believes coal production will decline 10 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, wind energy is thriving. In the first quarter of 2012, the U.S. installed 1,695 megawatts of wind, one of the industry's best quarters ever, up 53 percent from the same time last year, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Wind projects are creating jobs and economic opportunity across the country, with 32 new projects installed in 17 states in the first quarter alone.

Also this week, the coal industry released its own report, which clearly reflects the anxiety the industry is feeling. Entitled "Know Thy Enemy: An Update on the Sierra Club," the Kentucky Coal Association singles out the Sierra Club by summarizing our ongoing commitment to see the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act fully enforced to protect the health and livelihoods of Americans. Coal companies and their friends in Congress are spending millions on top of millions to weaken these pillars of environmental protection. Have a look for yourself (pdf). Unfortunately, big polluters would rather spend money on drafting reports like this than protecting our health or investing in clean energy.

"We're flattered that the coal industry would hire lawyers just to 'research' information available on our public website, but it seems like a waste of resources," said Tom Pearce, a Sierra Club Kentucky organizer. "What energy companies should be doing is focusing on how to transition away from dangerous fossil fuels and invest in clean energy and a just transition for workers."

One key measure that will help that transition is, unfortunately, in jeopardy. Congress has so far failed to renew a key wind energy provision that expires at the end of this year -- the Production Tax Credit, which only Congress can renew. The wind industry is already announcing layoffs and canceled projects as a result of Congress' failure to act, and without congressional action this year, thousands more clean-energy jobs will disappear. That's why extending the tax credit for the wind sector has strong bipartisan support.

However, some in Congress aren't listening. Help us by telling them to extend tax credits for wind and support clean-energy jobs over big polluters.

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