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Opinion: Pro-coal protest no joke, more like a nightmare

Coal, in this day and age? Really?

Fear-mongering, bought science the last gasps of a dying industry

By Bob Berwyn

Fine-tuning their scare tactics and the art of fishing with red herrings as bait, Colorado’s coal and mining industry is claiming that the state plan mandating a switch from coal to natural gas will result in electricity rate increases of 11 to 50 percent, reduce Colorado’s gross state product by $2.8 to $12 billion per year and cost 30,000 to 120,000 jobs.

That was about enough to make me want to join a protest of the plan, scheduled this week on the Capitol steps in Denver. I was just about to run out and buy a white sheet so I could make a protest banner when I remembered that whole global warming thing — you know, where carbon from burning fossil fuels threatens to turn our entire planet into some other-worldly hothouse experiment with an uncertain outcome.

The pro-coal rally is timed to coincide with a Public Utilities Commission hearing. Opponents of the switch are hanging their collective hats on the testimony of Dr. Roger Bezdek, long-known as an advocate for dinosaur energy industries.

Along with the projected rate increases, Bezdek goes for the pity angle, concluding that the plan would hurt low income consumers by imposing a regressive tax that would decrease their discretionary income and fall harshly on the elderly, minorities, and those living on fixed incomes.

Then, down about halfway through the press release, we get to the nut of the issue. The switch would reduce the demand for Colorado coal, costing the companies that mine the stuff millions of dollars in profits. According to the Colorado Mining Association, the switch to gas would result in a 4-million-ton hit to the industry, and Bezdek says that it wouldn’t be possible to sell that coal to other markets, as overall demand for coal declines.

To me, that’s the good news, showing that surely — if slowly — people are starting to understand that our current energy path is unsustainable and that we need to switch to clean, renewable sources of energy as fast as we possibly can if we want to save what’s left of our teetering global ecosystem.

That’s not to say that we won’t have to use coal at all. It will remain part of the mix of energy sources for quite some time, and when the mining association makes the point that existing dirty coal-fired plants should be retrofitted with state-of-the-art environmental controls, it’s getting about as close to reality as possible for the lobbying group.

Anyway, the list of people slated to speak at the pro-coal rally makes it clear that this is a special interest event, narrowly — some might even say parochially — focused event, including representatives from the rail companies that transport the coal and former elected officials from areas where it’s mined.

Problem is, the environment is a global issue that affects all of us more than the switch will impact a few people in the industry. It’s not fair for these people to put their self-interest ahead of global well-being. It’s preposterous that, in this day and age, somebody can organize a protest like this and expect to be taken seriously.

Moving toward a green, renewable energy economy doesn’t make sense just from an environmental standpoint, it make sense for business reasons as well. Far from costing jobs and supposedly dinging the state economy, a deliberate switch to renewables would benefit the state’s economy in so many ways and for such a long-time.

Given what’s at stake, trying to halt this progress should be considered a crime against future generations that verges on genocidal. There really is not much room for middle ground in the global warming debate. Time is running short.

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