Coal industry should help reduce impact of climate change

May 19, 2014 

Heather Warman is executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation and lives in Lexington.

  • At issue: May 7 Herald-Leader article, "Kentuckians differ on urgency of scientific report on climate; some see trend, others see slanted hype"

Earlier this month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its Fifth Assessment Report—a sobering document that outlines both the human effects on climate change and the consequences of inaction.

Specifically, the report cites the dithering by our elected leaders as worsening the situation, as greenhouse gas emissions are increasing more dramatically than ever.

However, the report did offer a ray of hope: that there is still a window of time to begin reversing the effects of climate change, and that the political will to do so is rising around the world.

Unfortunately, that is not the case here in Kentucky. Many of our elected officials and candidates continue to deny the existence of climate change, or that much of it is manmade. The coal industry continues to exert its influence on this issue, branding any efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a fictional "war on coal."

Predictably, Kentucky Coal Association president Bill Bissett attacked the report's findings upon its release. "I think it's more of the same from the Obama administration," he stated. "It reinforces the notion that they're out of step with issues that are important to Kentuckians. I think the president is trying to establish these initiatives as part of his legacy, and it's very clear he's doing this without the support of Congress or the people of Kentucky."

Bissett's statement makes clear that the industry's "war on coal" propaganda campaign remains in place. But it also appears that he did not even bother to read the report. If he had, he might have noted some pretty crucial information.

First, the president did not convene either the panel or the report. The IPCC is a scientific body governed by the United Nations, an organization of which the United States is a member. As the IPCC represents over 135 leading scientists who came to a consensus throughout the report, it is a stretch to define the report as coming from the Obama administration.

Second, the report is fair and balanced. Instead of simply being a treatise for the environmental movement, the report contains items and recommendations that environmentalists will find difficult to swallow.

For example, the document concludes that coal-fired power plants should be replaced with natural gas plants, as the emissions associated with extracted gas are "low or mitigated." That's one of the possible reasons Bissett probably wants nothing to do with the report. Environmentalists support that mitigation is not just about emissions but the whole cycle of extracted pollution.

Bissett needs to get his facts straight. But more importantly, he needs to know that he does not speak for the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky or its citizens. I was born and raised in Kentucky, and I've lived here my entire life. Like countless other Kentuckians, I support the Climate Change Initiative, and I believe that the issues it addresses are vital to the health, well-being, and future of all Kentuckians.

It should come as no surprise that the coal industry is taking this line. After all, this is an industry that has proven to be grossly negligent in protecting and safeguarding the thousands of good, hard-working Kentucky miners that it employs or to invest in technology and practices that might save their industry.

Instead, the coal industry has chosen to sequester its wealth among its corporate bosses and lobbyists, many of whom are out of state, at the expense of its workers and the residents of the communities the mining has impacted.

Instead of finger pointing, the coal industry should take stock of their actions and policies. Instead of railing against the Obama administration, they should join in a conversation with concerned citizens and political leaders to support local alternatives to lost mining jobs.

That could be done with mine remediation, cleanup, monitoring and all of the things they should have been doing as a constant part of their operations that would improve the lives and livelihoods of Kentucky miners, their families and the communities where they live.

Instead of living in the past, they should be looking toward the future.

Heather Warman is executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation and lives in Lexington.

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