Putting an end to America’s addiction to dirty coal with the Greenpeace Semester

by Guest Blogger

October 22, 2011

15-acre coal ash dump site in a old unlined slate quarry (uncovered) sits above the Bangor, PA downtown community as seen from the local cemetary.

Cole McClean is a student from Toronoto, Canada in the current Fall 2011 Greenpeace Semester class. Check out his blog below:

I’m sure as the nine of us stood in the parking lot at 8 AM, we were all wondering what we were getting ourselves into for the next couple of weeks. Ten people in a tiny 4 bedroom cottage? It’s going to be cozy.

Spirits were high as we piled into the van (two hours later, thanks, rental car company). We all knew what we were going to do though. Us, along with many other NGO’s and community groups across the country have been uniting to end Americas addiction to one of the dirtiest, and most environmentally detrimental fuels burned on the planet. Coal.

Many of America’s coal plants have reached, or are reaching, their life expectancy. This old technology is not only behind in coal burning standards, but in the standards of power generation, grid usage, and general upkeep. Simply put, these older plants need to be shut down, and their resources transferred to environmentally cleaner and more economically sustainable sources. I don’t understand why corporations are so afraid to transfer funds into something that will not only create better jobs, but healthier ones, and healthier communities in the areas they operate.

I feel that people point their fingers in the faces of people like me, saying that we’re just trying to “bring down the greedy system, man.” These people are uttering uneducated statements. Coal power plants are not only killing our planet, but our family and friends. As an example, the area around the Portland Generating Station reports 30 deaths per year from coal-related illnesses. At this point, I could care less about the $6,000,000.00 that GenOn’s CEO (the owner of this plant) makes per year. Yes, I agree it’s unfair, but the lives of those in this community are much more important to me than this guy’s bankroll. The Portland Generating Station operates at a small fraction of its actual capacity, typically around 20%. How is that worth the health risks proven to arise from burning its disgusting coal? This isn’t even considering that the plant spews more pollutants like sulfur dioxide than all of the New Jersey coal plants combined, and dumps its excess coal ash in a completely uncovered dumpsite next to downtown Bangor, PA, where on a rainy day you can almost feel the carcinogenic silt sticking to your skin.

As we drive through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, I’m finding it hard to believe that any corporate executive would willingly pollute the beautiful landscapes for such a volatile and small profit. Have they ever come here and looked someone in the eyes who has lost a loved one? Probably not, and if they have, I would love to personally hear from this person on how they’re able to continue on the same path. Unfortunately for this community, these health risks are both extremely prevalent and completely unacknowledged.

Understandably, there is a huge need to maintain jobs in todays world. While someone like me may appear to be the bad guy in this (after all, the friends I’m here with are trying to shut down coal plants), those in worry need only to look in the near future for reassurance. With increased funding into the green energy sector, tens of thousands of jobs will be created, allowing for people to obtain jobs in a sector with resources that aren’t going to run out, unlike our dirty fossil fuels. I genuinely believe that these are jobs that will last. I’m from a small town in Canada where it’s a boom or bust scenario, I understand the angst people have with shutting down something that employs dozens of people in the area. Some of the largest car companies in the world have creation and accessory plants in my town, and when they’re struggling, we’re struggling. Thousands of us.

After Fukushima, one of the most influential countries on the global marketplace decided to smartly invest in publicly safe, environmentally clean, economically sustainable power sources. Unfortunately the switch came after one of the worst accidents I’ve seen in my life, but that was their trigger. How is ours not the tens of thousands of people dying every year in this country from something that we apparently have complete control over? The United States ,and North America as a whole, is slipping behind in innovation and imagination. Let’s stop allowing the people and places we love to be put at such a risk, the time for an energy revolution is now. America, Quit Coal.

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