Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” Campaign Is Beyond the Pale

by William Yeatman on May 9, 2011

in Blog, Features

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Last Thursday, the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee held a hearing on “Environmental Protection Agency Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachia.” Video and written testimony are available here. For detailed descriptions of the EPA’s outrageous war on Appalachian coal production, click here, here, or here. Suffice it to say, EPA has subverted the Administrative Procedures Act to enact a de facto moratorium on mining. It engineered a new Clean Water Act “pollutant,” saline effluent, which the EPA claims degrades water quality downstream from mines by harming a short lived insect that isn’t an endangered species. The hearing on Thursday was part 1; this Wednesday, the subcommittee is scheduled to hear from EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

I attended the hearing, and at the media table, I picked up a Sierra Club “Beyond Coal Campaign” press release, by Director Mary Anne Hitt. It is an excellent window into the lying and exaggerations frequently employed by environmental extremists in order to demonize coal. Below, I reprint the entire press release, sentence by sentence (in bold), each followed by a rebuttal (in italics).

Sierra Club: “This Committee’s leadership is trying to stack the deck against Appalachian miners, families and businesses.”

Stacking the deck!? This is absurd. To be sure, all four witnesses before the Subcommittee were opposed to the EPA’s war on Appalachian coal, but that was by BIPARTISAN agreement. Indeed, the only Democrat to show up was Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), the Ranking Member of the full Committee, who opposes the EPA’s machinations more than Republicans, due to the fact that his State is the largest coal producer in Appalachia, and is, therefore, harmed most.

[Update, May 11, 1:57 PM. I was mistaken that Rep. Nick Rahall was the only Member of the Minority Party to attend the hearing. Subcommittee Ranking Member Timothy Bishop (NY) gave an opening statement and then left. I got confused because Rep. Nick Rahall took his seat. Also, Rep. Jason Altmire came in after testimony was heard.

That said, the Hearing was bipartisan in unanimous fashion. Rep. Bishop spoke of a “pendulum” that had swung too far; Rep. Altmire, at today’s hearing [part 2], thanked the first panel, and then noted “our support as a group to cultivate our own resources” and further promised to “do anything we can do to lesson the burden”; also today, Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) said that, “anytime something like this rises to the level of the House, it suggests there’s a problem.”]

Sierra Club: “Despite the severe threats that mountaintop removal coal mining poses to the health of Appalachian families and the environment, not a single community member affected by mountaintop removal has been invited to speak to this Committee.”

For starters, mountaintop mining poses no threat “to the health of Appalachian families” and essentially zero impact on the “environment.” As I explain in detail here, the EPA’s war on Appalachian coal is predicated on protecting an insect that lives for a day, and which isn’t even an endangered species.

As for the Sierra Club’s nonsense about the Committee not having invited a “single community member affected by mountaintop removal,” there is an extremely likely explanation: No such “community member” exists. In May 2010, I travelled to Charleston, West Virginia, to attend an EPA field hearing on its Appalachian coal crackdown. It took place in the Charleston Civic Center, and there were probably 2,000 people in the room, of which I’d guestimate that 1,980 were against the EPA. Of those that supported the EPA’s assault on Appalachian coal production, 10 worked for the EPA, and the rest were from environmentalist organizations. There were no “community members affected by mountaintop removal.” The upshot is that the only people in this affair who are “affected” are the coal industry and support industry workers who are at risk of losing their jobs.

Sierra Club: “Mountaintop removal is not the economic cure-all that many in Congress claim it to be.”

Wrong again! Mountaintop mining might be anathema to radical environmentalists at the Sierra Club, but it’s absolutely essential for the Appalachian coal industry’s competitiveness vis a vis coal production west of the Mississippi.

Sierra Club: “In reality, it costs miners their jobs through mechanization, jeopardizes their health and puts state budgets even deeper into debt.”

Regarding the first clause: If mountaintop mining “costs miners their jobs,” then why do miners support it? As for the second clause, it is an unequivocal fact that local and state governments in Appalachian States rely on the coal industry for a significant part of their tax revenues. For example, at the May EPA field hearing, Logan County (West Virginia) School Superintendent Wilma Zigmond said that, “coal keeps the lights on and our schools running,” after noting that property taxes from coal mines contribute more than $17 million annually.

Sierra Club: “There is a better way.”

Really! That’s great. Please, tell me this better way! (I sure hope it’s not windmills and solar panels)

Sierra Club: “Clean, safe and affordable alternatives exist to power our nation—without the high economic and health costs or destruction that come with mountaintop removal coal mining.”

D’oh! She was talking about wind mills and solar panels. The fact is, you can’t replace reliable, affordable energy (like coal power) with unreliable, expensive energy (like wind mills and solar panels). It just doesn’t work. I’ll also reiterate that the “high economic and health costs or destruction that come with mountaintop removal mining” is limited to an insect that lives for a day, and which isn’t even an endangered species.

Sierra Club: “In this time of economic uncertainty, it is more important than ever for Americans to seek out safe, cost-effective solutions to our energy crisis.”

This is ridiculous. “In this time of economic uncertainty,” it is important for people to have jobs, WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SIERRA CLUB OPPOSES. Moreover, the most “cost-effective” solution to our “energy crisis (?)” is coal. I’ll grant that coal mining is more dangerous to Americans than the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels in China. [To be sure, as a free marketer, I’m a proponent of China’s right to sell America wind turbines and solar panels without restrictions, in order to cheapest meet the foolish green energy production quotas that our politicians subject us to.]

Sierra Club: “Mountaintop removal coal mining simply doesn’t fit this bill.”

Perhaps in bizzarro world, but not here on planet earth.

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