07/06/2012 02:53 pm ET Updated Sep 05, 2012

Time to Clear the Air: Wind Works

Don Quixote, in one of his most delusional adventures, attacks a group of windmills after becoming convinced that they are mythological monsters.

In another example of real life imitating fiction, Big Coal and its allies in Congress are attacking the windmills of the 21st Century.

This attack is not only against one of the main sources of clean, renewable energy, but also against the health of our communities -- especially the Hispanic community.

In order for wind energy to prosper, it needs the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a federal policy that helps level the playing field and that has become a key driver in wind industry job growth over the past decade.

However, under strong lobbying from polluters, Congress is resisting renewing the PTC. If it is not renewed by December 31st, over half of the 75,000 jobs that the wind industry has created are expected to be lost.

Polluters like Big Coal are in desperate need of this dishonest help from their allies in Congress because, as it turns out, the coal industry is hitting strong head winds.

In recent years, and thanks in large part to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, 112 coal-burning plants have been retired and the plans to build 166 coal plants have been scratched. Only four years ago, coal generated half of the country's power. Today, it generates just one third.

Furthermore, from an economic perspective, the industry is a losing proposition. According to a study by the Environmental Integrity Project, the country's dirtiest 51 coal plants cause 5,700 deaths and up to $47 billion every year. The report makes the salient point that the social costs of premature deaths caused by just 18 of those 51 plants are higher than the value of the electricity the plants generate. In fact, according to another study published by the American Economic Review, the $100 billion in health costs inflicted by Big Coal as a whole are higher than the value of the service it provides.

And who gets to pick up the bill for Big Coal's pollution in a disproportionate way? The Hispanic community. According to a LULAC study, almost 30 percent of Hispanics live dangerously close to a coal-burning plant. The Environmental Protection Agency tells us that 50 percent of Hispanics live in the counties that frequently violate federal standards for what is considered safe air quality. And the ones who suffer the most because of this toxic bombardment are Hispanic kids, whose asthma rates are considered an epidemic.

The wind industry, on the other hand, is sailing along. It generates 25 percent more energy than it did last year. Iowa and South Dakota already get 20 percent of their energy from wind and the entire country is on track to obtain 20 percent of its energy from wind by 2030.

More than 400 American manufacturing plants build wind components, and more than 60 percent of the U.S.-installed turbine value is produced right here in the U.S. This means tens of thousands of good-quality jobs that cannot be exported and that also benefit Hispanic workers.

Wind Works: it produces clean, renewable energy right here in our country; it creates tens of thousands of jobs in an economy that so desperately needs them; it is a safe alternative to electricity generated by the country's dirtiest energy sector, and, most importantly, it has the potential to avoid thousands of premature deaths.

Congress's refusal to extend the PTC right now is, well, delusional.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_sc.