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Coal's True Cost

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Last evening's GOP CNN/YouTube debate and the Democratic presidential
debate on November 15 were jointly sponsored by a coal industry
coalition
comprised of mining, railroad and utility interests.

Their high profile civic involvement is designed to further confuse
American voters about coal's true cost to our society. Many of the
Republican candidates have endorsed massive new subsidies for King
Coal and dutifully parrot industry talking points including earnest
promises of cheap "clean coal." Given that climate change is the most
urgent threat to our collective survival, it is shocking that no
debate moderator has pressed the candidates to clearly state their
positions on "clean coal."

In fact, there is no such thing as "clean coal." And coal is only
"cheap" if one ignores its calamitous externalized costs. In addition
to global warming, these include dead forests and sterilized lakes
from acid rain, poisoned fisheries in 49 states and children with
damaged brains and crippled health from mercury emissions, millions of
asthma attacks and lost work days and thousands dead annually from
ozone and particulates. Coal's most catastrophic and permanent
impacts are from mountaintop removal mining. If the American people
could see what I have seen from the air and ground during my many
trips to the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia: leveled
mountains, devastated communities, wrecked economies and ruined lives,
there would be a revolution in this country.

Well now you can visit coal country without ever having to leave your
home. Every presidential candidate and every American ought to take a
few seconds to visit an ingenious new website created by Appalachian
Voices
, that allows one to tour
the obliterated landscapes of Appalachia. And it's not just Arch
Coal, Massey Coal and their corporate toadies in electoral politics
who are culpable for the disaster. The amazing new website allows you
to enter your zip code to learn how you're personally connected to the
great crime of mountaintop removal. Using this website Americans from
Maine to California can see these mountains and the communities that
were sacrificed to power their home. The tool uses Google Maps and
Google Earth as interfaces to a large database of power plants and
mountaintop removal coal mines. A November 15, 2007 article in the
Wall Street Journal highlighted the site as one of the most
innovative, cutting-edge uses of these powerful tools. The site puts
a human face on the issue by highlighting the stories of families
living in the shadows of these mines.

Each day the coal barons from companies like Massey and Arch detonate
2500 tons of explosives-the power of a Hiroshima bomb every week-to
blow away Appalachian mountain tops to reach the coal seams beneath.
Colossal machines then plow the rock and debris into the adjacent
river valleys and hollows, destroying forests and burying free-flowing
mountain streams, flattening North America's most ancient mountain
range. According to EPA 1,200 miles of American rivers and streams
have already been permanently interred and 470 of Appalachia's largest
mountains have simply disappeared, leaving behind giant pits and
barren moonscapes, some as large as Manhattan Island. I recently flew
over one 18 square-mile pit - Hobet 21 - which you can now tour on
Google Earth!

We are literally cutting down the historic landscapes where Daniel
Boone and Davy Crockett roamed and that are so much the source of
American's values, character and culture.

Mountaintop mining poisons water supplies, pollutes the air and
destroys hundreds of miles of North America's most ancient and
biologically diverse hardwood forests and permanently impoverishes
local communities. Millions of dollars earned from this criminal
enterprise land in the coffers of the politicians now jockeying to
lead our country to a "new energy future." Mountaintop removal is one
of the biggest environmental holocausts in human history. Wherever
you live, you have a connection-and a responsibility.

The effort to end mountaintop removal has been gaining steam over the
past year. As of today, the leading Congressional plan to ban the
practice has 118 co-sponsors-dozens more than last year, with over a
year to go in the 110th Congress.

From Appalachia to the Western states of Wyoming and Utah, the strip
miners have permanently destroyed some of the most beautiful country
on Earth, leaving behind a legacy of misery and poverty. For too long
Arch, Massey and their tame politicians have hidden their crimes in
the remote poverty-stricken communities of Appalachia. This new
website finally exposes this national disgrace for every American to
witness. Our aspiring presidential leaders at the very least should
be asked to explain their position on this shameful and corrupt
enterprise.