Quit Coal, it’s too costly — letter to the editor

This is our moment. This is our time. I enjoyed growing up in Austin, a city that prides itself on a high quality of environmental stewardship. But Austin Energy’s legacy of clean and green is at stake.

As a professional musician I’ve benefited from decades of reliable, affordable electricity – from First Baptist Church to ACL Fest, Austin Energy supplied our performances with what I believed to be the best energy money could buy.

In the 1990’s, our utility’s leadership in Wind and Efficiency made Austin green and famous. But today, I stand with a coalition of local environmentalists who are calling for faster phase-out of Austin’s coal-fired electricity. We believe our city can get off coal and provide more affordable electricity, within 5 years.

Why quit coal?

1. Coal is the dirtiest fuel on earth.
Burning coal increases incidence of birth defects, childhood asthma, adult asthma, cancer, and acid rain, to name a few.

>> Environment Texas says 44 deaths are directly linked to pollution from Austin’s coal plant every year. Not to mention, new regulations are making carbon emissions more expensive. Coal is costly.

2. Coal is the same price as Wind.
And wind, solar, and wave will become less expensive in the near team (think Moore’s Law, economies of scale, and the Experience Learning Curve).

>> AE is running a risky strategy (http://powersmack.org/coal-is-not-cheap/). Without bold investment in clean energy innovation some of Austin’s biggest industrial employers may be forced to move. Wind is already lowering electricity prices in Houston and Dallas. Coal’s retail price is no longer cheapest.

3. Coal companies are irresponsible.
The coal industry, over 100 years old, still refuses to take financial responsibility for any of its “negative externalities” — i.e. damage to human health & the environment.

>> Ex. According to an article in the Statesman, 8/16/09 (http://tinyurl.com/pnnb5x) big coal doesn’t want to pay for building its own carbon sequestration facilities, nor does it want to be responsible if the sequestration doesn’t work. Coal’s management want you to absorb their costs of doing business.

4. Coal is the most destructive fuel on earth.
Coal = mountain top removal, habitat destruction, strip mining, black lung, tar sands, coal ash, airborne ash, sludge ponds, slurry spills, water pollution, species extinctions, CO2 emissions, greenhouse gases, and heat exhaust.

>> Getting coal out of the ground has already cost Appalachia over 450 mountains and 1,000 miles of streams. Natural habitat in these areas is being decimated. Downstream effects on human health are horrific. A slurry pond spill (Dec. 28, 2008) into the Tennessee River is estimated to have been “nearly 1,000 times bigger” than the Exxon Valdez accident.
Affected citizens in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas are resembling those of a third world country (where the poor are powerless). Meanwhile, people around the planet are calling for an end to greenhouse gas emissions, and coal plants – designed to
burn at capacity 24/7, literally add more heat to an already hot planet. The infrastructure is antiquated. Does this sound like a cost effective future?

Just a Few Links:

  • http://tinyurl.com/p4lpcw – Coal in the Water
  • http://tinyurl.com/qyzd3q – Coal = Toxic Water
  • http://tinyurl.com/qejpjg – EPA, “600 Coal Ash Sites, 44 Potentially Deadly”
  • http://tinyurl.com/pwrshm – Mountain Range Destruction coal mining
  • http://tinyurl.com/yb9squn – Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards


    Coal is costly. It’s impacts on human lives and our planet are too numerous to mention in a short piece. Furthermore, its “retail price” doesn’t look so good. Just because we don’t put a dollar value on health, social injustice, environmental degradation, and biological devastation doesn’t mean we don’t pay.

    Quit Coal, it’s too costly. Coal’s negative externalities are an affront to the common values of Austinites everywhere. I challenge you to find an Austinite who is pro-pollution, pro-birth defects, pro-high costs… Let’s reenergize Austin Energy’s tradition of taking the lead in doing what’s economically brilliant, best for humans, and respectful of Creation.


    For more on this, please attend our Sept. 23rd event at City Hall.
    And, please add your comments.


    Thanks—Chris Searles

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