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Last Updated:6/6/11

Grist Magazine

Memo to the White House: Closing coal plants is a good thing

By Glenn Hurowitz
Grist Magazine
15 June 2011

As the Obama administration announced the latest in a series of delays on rules that would cut pollution from smokestacks and industrial facilities, the utility industry continues to tout a new study showing that planned EPA clean air regulations would cause the shutdown of several coal-fired power plants. Several politicians and the administration have responded by trying to deny the charge -- saying that most of the plants would have shut down anyway: Really, it's not our fault that these poison-spewing monsters are closing, they say.

Rather than running away from the closure of a coal plant, the administration would be far better off celebrating it. The White House should be throwing a big party every time a coal plant closes: It means hundreds of American lives saved from early deaths due to heart attacks, lung cancer, and other illnesses that result from coal's toxic pollution. And it means millions of tons less climate pollution spewed into the atmosphere, and fewer mountains blown up for coal.

Of course, the polluters harp on the jobs they claim the power plants support. I'll leave it to Mitt Romney to talk about that:

"I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people," he said while governor of Massachusetts, urging a local coal-fired power plant to obey the law and clean up its jobs.

In fact, coal jobs are parasitic in an economic sense as well: Every dollar we spend on coal is a dollar we're not spending on solar, wind, and geothermal -- sectors that generate double the number of jobs per dollar as dirty fuels. By shutting down coal plants and moving to clean energy, we can provide good-paying jobs to the thousands of coal miners put out of work by non-unionized, highly mechanized mountaintop-removal coal mining. In fact, that's already happening: more people work in the wind industry than are employed by the entire coal mining industry.

In other words, shutting down coal-fired power plants should make even the cold-blooded politicos in the White House smile, because it means more people will have jobs -- and they'll have jobs in industries that don't spend their political dollars almost exclusively on the GOP.

Of course, pursuing this strategy might involve tolerating some criticism from the polluters, and if there's one thing this White House is constantly trying to avoid (in vain), it's conflict. They don't seem to understand that capitulating to polluters and other hostile corporate interests emboldens their enemies while disheartening and dividing their friends.

Of course, this is a moral issue more than a political one: by indefinitely delaying clean air regulations, President Obama is ransoming Americans health and the planet's to a (flawed) political philosophy.

Glenn Hurowitz is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. You can follow his Twitter feed about forests, climate, and wildlife: @glennhurowitz.

Copyright, Grist Magazine, 2011. Original article available here.

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