Opposition to coal making for some unusual bedfellows


For the first time ever, a government agency rejected the construction of a coal plant on the grounds that carbon dioxide is a pollutant regulated under the Clean Air Act. The proposed 700 megawatt facility in Kansas “would have produced 11 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, nearly as much as a group of eight Northeastern states hope to save by 2020 through a mandatory cap-and-trade program.”

The past year has been rough for coal in the U.S. The Department of Energy estimates that utilities have canceled the construction of 14,000 megawatts of planned new coal capacity, and delayed the construction of 32,000 megawatts more.

These environmental successes are partly the result of this spring’s favorable Supreme Court decision, and partly the result of successful coalitions. Opposition to new coal plants is coming from some unusual quarters, including farmers, ranchers, ski resort owners, environmentalists, and others. Rural America has a growing fascination with wind energy, which can be a source of direct payments to landowners.

The Kansas coal plant was actually supported by the AFL-CIO (which liked the thought of new jobs) and opposed by the Steelworkers Union. Frustratingly, I’ve been unable to find any news about what led to this labor split. It’s disappointing that the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of unions, is pressing for the construction of new coal plants, but also points up an opportunity. Someday — hopefully soon — someone is going to cook up a green jobs platform that gets workers truly excited about renewable energy.

Update: In comments, there’s a good link to a longer summary of the Kansas decision. I also found this round-up of reactions to the decision in a Kansas newspaper. Unfortunately, the reactions mostly read from the traditional script of economic development vs. clean air. Sigh.


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  1. Nora Thomason - October 21, 2007

    Thought you might be interested in some of the politics behind the scenes of the Kansas coal permit denial as viewed by a nearby Kansas blogger at EverydayCitizen.com –

  2. Adam Stein - October 22, 2007

    Thanks! Good link. I updated the post.

  3. Deb - October 24, 2007

    I am thankful that someone is finally noticing that coal plants are not a good thing. I live in Western Pa within 50 miles or three plants. Our streams have been ruined, the landscape looks is pocked with places that look like bomb sites, men die from black lung, and who knows what the mercury is doing to us. BUT, hey, people have jobs. We won’t worry about the fact that they have to use their hard earned money for the doctors who treat their black lung and cancer. Let’s hope those green jobs are forthcoming so we don’t have to look at the coal and gas industry as the only place blue collar workers can find jobs.

  4. Ernest - October 26, 2007

    Wellll, there HAS been a lot of attention from unions to the job potential of green industries. Looks like Terrapass should join up! Check out the website for the Apollo Alliance, from which the following small excerpt (note especially the list of unions at the end):
    The Apollo Alliance provides a message of optimism and hope, framed around rejuvenating our nation’s economy by creating the next generation of American industrial jobs and treating clean energy as an economic and security mandate to rebuild America. America needs to hope again, to dream again, to think big, and to be called to the best of our potential by tapping the optimism and can-do spirit that is embedded in our nation’s history.

    In 1961, John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to send a man to the moon and return him safely home again within the decade. It was an audacious dare. The technology did not yet exist, but he marshaled the resources of a nation — focusing public investment, research, science and technology education, worker training, and America’s industrial might on a common purpose. It was leadership toward a common positive goal and it worked. In less than eight years Neil Armstrong placed the first human footprint on the lunar surface, and President Kennedy to this day remains honored for his vision and as a leader of courage.

    Now America has an Apollo project for the 21st century. Today the stakes are much, much higher. We face an economy hemorrhaging its highest paying and most productive jobs, cities falling apart with over a trillion dollars in unmet public investment in crumbling schools, transportation, and infrastructure. The middle class is increasingly insecure as career ladders are broken and not replaced in new service sector jobs. And on a global scale we face never before seen environmental disruption, rising social inequity, and the emergence of fundamentalist anger that threatens our very security. We need new leaders of vision, and a new unifying call to action.

    Apollo Alliance National Steering Committee
    National Advisory Board
    Labor Unions
    Environmental Organizations
    Economic, Social Justice, Faith-Based, and Regional Partners
    Business Partners and Endorsers

    National Advisory Board:
    Phil Angelides, California State Treasurer
    President Andrew Beebe, Energy Innovations, An Idea Lab Company
    Angela Glover Blackwell, Policy Link
    Chairman Julian Bond, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
    President Thomas Buffenbarger, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
    Senator Maria Cantwell, MS Congress (D-WA) *
    Henry Cisneros, former Mayor of San Antonio, Texas
    President Leo W. Gerard, The United Steel Workers of America *
    Jan Hartke, Executive Director, EarthVoice
    Vice President Gerry Hudson, SEIU Local 1199
    Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA)
    Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., US Congress (D-IL) *
    Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Systems and Mitchell Kapor Foundation
    Bill Lucy, Secretary/Treasurer, AFSCME
    William Lynch
    William McDonough, Architect, Author, Educator
    Kathleen A. McGinty, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Energy
    President Terence M. O’Sullivan, Laborers’ International Union of North America
    Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club *
    Art Pulaski, Secretary-Treasurer, California Labor Federation
    Governor Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania
    Anthony Thigpenn, Executive Director AGENDA
    President Danny Thompson, Nevada Labor Federation

    * Designates Co-Chair of the National Advisory Board

    The Apollo Alliance has been endorsed by the following labor unions:
    AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council (IUC)
    AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Dept
    National Heavy and Highway Alliance
    Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)
    American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
    Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Intl. Union (BCTGM)
    Boilermakers Union (IBB)
    California Labor Federation
    Graphic Communications Industrial Union (GCIU)
    Hawaii AFL-CIO
    Illinois AFL-CIO
    Indiana AFL-CIO
    International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM)
    International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
    International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT)
    International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE-CWA)
    King County Labor Council, AFL-CIO
    Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA)
    Metropolitan Detroit, AFL-CIO
    Michigan AFL-CIO
    Minnesota AFL-CIO
    Oregon AFL-CIO
    Paper and Allied Chemical Employees (PACE)
    Pennsylvania AFL-CIO
    Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
    Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA)
    Transportation Workers Union (TWU)
    United Automobile and Aerospace Workers (UAW)
    United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)
    United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)
    United Steel Workers of America (USWA)
    Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO
    Wisconsin AFL-CIO