Yes, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline for now, giving us some hope that perhaps our government might be able to make the hard decisions needed to confront global warming and move beyond fossil fuels.
But then again, it’s hard to see this as real progress when the overall challenge we face seems to show no sign of diminishing anytime soon. I’m talking about coal, of course, which as the EPA noted last week, continues to be the number one contributor to global warming in the U.S.
Here in the West, the challenge of coal seems to be mounting almost daily, with the industry digging in, literally, to keep mining and burning. Just in the last two weeks, WildEarth Guardians has played defense on a number of new proposals, including:
- Appealing yet another Forest Service decision to allow more coal strip mining in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, the largest coal producing region in the nation;
- Ripping apart a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management to expand the Deserado coal mine in northwestern Colorado, which fuels the Bonanza coal-fired power plant in northeastern Utah;
- Fighting back an effort by Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, to derail a clean air plan for the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station, the fourth largest coal-fired power plant in the American West;
- Challenging a federal court ruling that allowed Xcel Energy to forego meeting Clean Air Act requirements to limit toxic air pollution from the Comanche coal-fired power plant in Pueblo, Colorado; and
- Questioning a Forest Service proposal to allow Arch Coal to build a one square mile stockpile of overburden and topsoil at the Black Thunder Coal Mine in Wyoming, the largest coal mine in the world.
Of course, there are some good signs here and there. The latest Energy Information Administration electricity monthly report confirms that in 2011, all of Colorado’s new electricity generators were wind and solar, while all of the state’s retired generators were coal. The retirement was a 100 megawatt coal-fired boiler at Xcel Energy’s Cherokee power plant in North Denver, which was spurred by the State’s Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act.
At the same time, however, a good friend of mine, Leslie Glustrom with Clean Energy Action, pointed out that although 16 gigawatts of new wind generation in Colorado are in the “queue,” all of it has been put on hold by Xcel until 2028. And while the company intends to take 1,268 megawatts of coal-fired capacity offline by 2017, the company has also been seeking rate increases to keep 2,229 megawatts of coal-fired capacity operating to 2035 and beyond.
Adding to this, the company intends to repower some of its coal-fired power plants, including Cherokee and Arapahoe, both in Denver, with natural gas, yet another fossil fuel.
I’ve already pointed out the dangers of simply replacing coal with natural gas in Colorado.
We’ve beat back the XL pipeline, but in the end, it seems like we’re being beat back even more by one coal project after the next here in the West. It doesn’t help that the Obama Administration continues to make excuses for endorsing ramped up coal mining in the Powder River Basin and elsewhere in the West.
So let’s savor the setback of tar sands, but not forget that unless and until we can rein in coal, especially in the West, our progress is fleeting, at best.
In 2009, WildEarth Guardians called on Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to stop clowning around when it comes to confronting climate change and power past coal. It’s high time to call on President Obama and others to do the same.