Well okay, hate the player. Massey Energy and Don Blankenship are certainly deserving of our scorn. But while our hearts go out to the families of the West Virginia coal miners who lost their lives, and our anger is turned on Massey Energy, which appears to have bought every politician which has stood in its way, we all need to look in the mirror, too.
Coal produces 54% of our electricity in this country. Every time you flip a light switch or crank up the air conditioning or purchase another appliance, think about where we get the juice to power that equipment. Think about what you are doing to keep the Massey Energies of this country in business.
Look, folks: coal ain’t cheap, regardless of what TVA’s Tom Kilgore and the folks at Big Coal would have you believe. It just looks cheap because when they’re crunching the numbers, they only count part of the cost. They don’t factor in the cost of cleaning up all those leaky coal sludge ponds, and the environmental and health costs associated not just with coal burning but also things like mountaintop removal mining.
(And while we’re talking about this, good for Senator Lamar Alexander, who last year introduced a bill that would basically ban mountaintop removal mining. This is so huge and significant and Lamar deserves a flood of phone calls thanking him for taking this step. And every other senator needs a phone call asking them to support the Cardin-Alexander Appalachian Restoration Act.)
However, it’s not enough. We need to do more, and we need to do it faster. West Virginia, Kentucky and other Appalachian states need to transition their economies away from the coal mines which have forced people to choose between poverty and poison. And some choice that's been: these states are still among the country’s poorest. People need jobs but they shouldn’t have to choose between poisoning their communities and risking their lives just to put food on the table.
Hate the player all you want, folks. But the problem is the game.
There are things we all can do to cut our coal consumption. At the Beale household we swapped out leaky old windows. When we remodeled our house we purchased energy-miser appliances. I close our blinds in the summer to keep the sun out, which does an amazing job of keeping the house cool. We changed our light bulbs to CFL’s. We signed up for TVA’s Green Power Switch program. And lastly, we put up a solar array on our roof, so NES actually pays me. I am sure we still use some coal, but not as much as we used to.
If you need some ideas on simple things that can save you lots of money in utility bills, as well as the true cost of coal, check out the film "Kilowatt Ours."
We aren’t perfect at the Beale household. Our house is old and there are energy leaks all over the place, especially around old door frames. We use way more electricity than we should. But it’s a start.