The “War on Coal” Has a Human Face

Earlier this year, a White House climate advisor, Daniel Schrag, publicly sounded the Obama Administration’s war on coal when he told the New York Times “a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”  Just yesterday, the Administration announced it’s decision to halt support for any new coal-fired power plants abroad financed through the World Bank and other international development funds.  And this month marked the shuttering of the 150th coal plant here in the U.S..  This war is ratcheting up – and it will have a human toll.  

Unintended casualties are among the costs of war.  This post is not a commentary on the environmental aspects of this war.  But say and think what you will about the environmental harms of coal, what is missing from the high-level debate is the larger social and humanitarian implications.  If we as a country desire to wean ourselves off of coal as our dominant energy source – currently supplying 40 percent of our energy – we need to do so in a way that does not destroy families and communities that have been built up over the last 150 years around it. 

It’s not often I’m in agreement with the Daily Kos, but if this war on coal continues to be waged, the warriors who are lobbing missils and bombs into coal country must avoid the human casualties.  Yesterday, over 5,000 miners descended upon DC, to remind our nation’s leaders and the country, the economic toll this war is taking on communities and families.  The Industrial Revolution and greatness of this country has been largely built on the backs of coal miners and their families.  We simply must not forget these faces of coal, who are at risk of becoming the victims of a larger political battle.  The transition to cleaner energy sources comes with enormous economic and social costs and, if this is a war the country chooses to wage, we must be willing to help those who find themselves in the cross-hairs of the heavy artillery.