Coal: Why Don’t Republicans Discuss It?


During the Republican debates, aside from Gov. Romney’s comment that he would promote coal, and Sen. Santorum’s disclosure that he served on a coal company board, the other conservatives simply encouraged oil and gas drilling, criticized clean energy like solar and wind, but said nothing about coal.

Although Republicans argued in favor of repealing regulations that interfere with energy, expressed a desire to eliminate the Energy Dept., and repeatedly demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency get out of the way, they were not specific.

So what would their coal policy be? The question is important because coal remains a major energy source. Large quantities of it are sold to electric power plants, as over half of all electric power in the U.S. is generated by coal. As coal is burned, it heats water in boilers, creates steam, spins turbines, and generates electricity.

The U.S. has one-third of the world’s coal supply, enough to mine for another 350 years. The U.S. started burning coal around 1850 and its use eventually turned America into a strong industrial nation. Most U.S. mining has been located in West Virginia and Kentucky, as well as other parts of the Appalachians, from Pennsylvania to Alabama.

Only Russia has greater coal reserves. Germany’s deposits are in the Ruhr River Valley, Britain’s are in Wales, and China’s are in Manchuria. Historically, coal fields were so important, nations fought wars over them. Germany and France, for example, battled over Alsace Lorraine, Saarland, and the Ruhr many times.

But what are the political issues in the U.S.? One issue concerns mine safety and the rights of coal miners, as coal mining is potentially dangerous. Most coal miners in the U.S. descend about 260 feet underground. Mines must be constructed properly and ventilated constantly. If the pillars in mines supporting their roofs collapse, cave-ins can be fatal. If the air flowing into the mines is interrupted, gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane can build up, catch fire, and explode causing death.

Another issue is the air pollution generated from burning coal. While some equipment eliminates some smoke and soot, there remain many environmental costs from using coal.

The two progressive forces that have protected workers regarding safety, and the public as to pollution, namely the unions and the Environmental Protection Agency, are being attacked by the Republicans.

Although the United Mine Workers Union contributed greatly to mine safety laws, such as the Coal Mine Inspection Act, the Republicans have declared war against all organized labor, and cannot be trusted do anything about mining safety complaints.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency has been the watchdog for the public as to air pollution generated by power plants, Republicans have pledged to abolish it, and our air will not be as safe, if the right-wing gains total control.

Although the Republicans have not clearly stated a coal policy, what they have said about destroying unions and dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency is all we need to know to figure out the rest. We should be concerned that if the right-wing takes total control, the coal industry will become more dangerous to workers, and the purity of the air will decline.

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