Obama Admin Announces Massive Coal Mining Expansion

Interior Dept.’s plan could increase U.S. carbon emissions by one-half.

Cross-posted from RYSE.

If you were worried that the U.S. might cease to be a world leader in climate pollution, the Obama Administration has just put your fears to rest. Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazarannounced a massive increase in Wyoming coal mining — 2.3 billion tons, to be exact. When this coal is burned, it could increase U.S. climate pollution by over 50 percent, according toGrist. In a joint statement, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife explained,

When burned, the coal threatens to release more than 3.9 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, equal to the annual emissions from 300 coal-fired power plants…. Salazar’s announcement is a stark contrast to his call for clean energy… in today’s press conference, Secretary Salazar announced Interior’s intent to authorize more than 12,000 megawatts of renewable energy by the end of next year…. Yet in opening the door for 2.35 billion tons of coal mining, Salazar’s announcement effectively enables more than 300,000 megawatts of coal-fired energy — 30 times more dirty energy development than renewable energy.

It seems that the Administration’s strategy is to hang a bright green sign out front, while letting fossil companies in through the back door. Obama didn’t come up with this idea on his own, though. Companies like BP and Chevron like to advertise their modest investments in clean energy, but their big money goes toward fossil fuels (and disinformation campaigns to promote fossil fuels). Well, Mr. President, here’s a tip: If you want climate hawks and enviros on your side, oil giants are the wrong crowd to hang with.

Indeed, it’s looking as if Obama is not actually that determined to build a more sustainable country. For many greens, that is hard to accept. Obama was supposed to be our president. He was backed by the biggest environmental groups and was swept into office largely by an unprecedented turnout of young voters. And, to be fair, he probably is one of our greenest presidents. His Recovery Act included $70 billion for renewables and efficiency, and he’s made some moving speeches in favor of clean energy. He also supported the late climate bill, although he chose to fight for healthcare reform instead. In addition, smaller changes throughout the government have generally reversed the anti-environmentalism of the Bush era.

But such progress could be easily outweighed by expanding fossil fuels. In his State of the Union address, Obama himself set a goal of 80 percent clean energy by 2035, comparing the green movement to the Space Race (“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment”). How does Salazar’s massive push for coal fit in with that plan?  Even Joe Romm says that question “may have no good answer.” Grist offers one explanation: The Administration can’t wait to sell China all the coal it can burn.

So do environmentalists need a new president? It’s looking that way, but the solution isn’t as simple as finding a greener Democratic challenger. If the GOP keeps moving to the right, there’s a very real possibility of a Tea Party favorite running on the Republican ticket in 2012. Someone like Newt Gingrich (who wants to chuck the EPA) or Michele Bachman (who thinks CO2 is “harmless” and global warming is “all voodoo”) would be infinitely worse than Obama. The point is that we have to be careful.

That doesn’t mean we should accept the Administration’s irresponsible decisions without complaint. As Glenn Hurowitz writes,

… if Obama’s coal and oil blitz doesn’t spur large protests at the White House, the environmental movement might as well pack its bags, rub on some patchouli, and head to the mountains (at least until the bulldozers come). At the end of the day, if we are to succeed, we will need to earn the respect of our friends and foes alike, and that starts with hitting the ballot box and the streets.

What’s your take? Has the man who promised “change we can believe in” stopped believing in change himself?

Image: Joshua Lawton

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One thought on “Obama Admin Announces Massive Coal Mining Expansion

  1. Pingback: Keystone XL Delayed: A Young Person’s Reaction | Through a Green Lens

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