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Guest Opinion: Coal not the forward-thinking choice

By Juli Viel

So the scuttle is that the Environmental Protection Agency wants to raise your electric rates. That’s what the Association for Missouri Electric Cooperatives and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association are saying.
AMEC and NRECA insist that electricity from coal is the cheapest and rural Missouri should stick with it. But it’s not the cheapest when you factor in health costs, environmental cost and the cost of climate change.
And what about future energy prices? The cost of coal and burning it is not likely to go down. But the cost of wind and solar is on a downward trend. By limiting fossil fuel use, we would send a signal to investors to move their money from dirty energy to clean energy to meet that new demand. With increasing demand and economies of scale, technology will continue to improve and prices will fall further.
As a mom and a grandmother, I am concerned that burning fossil fuels is changing our physical world. Carbon emissions from burning coal and oil are warming the Earth’s atmosphere and making oceans too warm and acidic for sea life. Scientists tell us to expect more extreme weather, wildfires, sea rise and mass extinctions if we continue to burn fossil fuels at today’s rates. Not a single major scientific society disagrees.
In other words, the Missouri we grew up with is not the Missouri our children are getting. And what are we setting up for our grandchildren? More can be found at climate.gov, globalchange.gov or ecowatch.com.
It takes just one ton of sand to make the same amount of electricity for solar energy as 500,000 tons of coal. A fourth of the burned coal remains as coal ash that contains arsenic, lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium – pollutants that cause cancers and neurologic development. Because of health concerns, Missouri residents near Ameren’s Labadie coal plant have been fighting plans to pile millions of cubic yards of coal ash on a plot of cropland near the Missouri River, just upstream from St. Louis. Additionally, burning coal leaves a plume of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter that causes increases in asthma, lung and cardiovascular problems. EarthJustice.org has great information about coal pollution.
Through its political action committee, NRECA spends more than $2 million on political campaigns each election cycle. In addition to this fiscal investment, at the local level it works through more than 900 local electric cooperatives serving more than 43 million people across the United States to send messages to Washington demanding the right to burn coal to keep kilowatts cheap. The cost to our health, environment, climate and future are never mentioned.
It is time that these 43 million customers – the real owners of these cooperatives – educate themselves about the total cost of coal. Then send a grassroots message back to their local cooperative, AMEC and NRECA demanding that the rural electric system that innovated to light up and power rural America now help lead our country to a new clean-energy future.

Juli Viel grew up on a farm near St. Martins, and now lives in O’Fallon.

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