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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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