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Were you one of those noticing–and fretting–in 2001 when Dick Cheney called the nation’s top air polluters into his holy of holies to secretly chart the nation’s energy policy? If so, you may not have noticed how thoroughly stymied the coal industry has been. It wanted a “coal rush” of 150 new coal plants. It had the blessing of a Republican administration and legislature, and it got … none. The Sierra Club has fought new plants by organizing communities to oppose them, stopping 153. And now Sierra Club is going on the offensive. Its Beyond Coal campaign aims to retire one third of the nation’s aging coal fleet by 2020.

Coal Power Plant

Sierra Club has received a $50 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to spread the anti-coal message. According to a press release:

In the U.S., coal is the leading cause of greenhouse-gas emissions, and coal’s pollution contributes to four out of the five leading causes of mortality — heart disease, cancer, stroke, and respiratory illness. Coal emits almost half of all U.S. mercury pollution, which causes developmental problems in babies and young children, as well as being a major contributor to asthma attacks. Coal pollution causes $100 billion in health costs annually.

Coal. Isn’t. Cheap. Solar panels don’t cause asthma attacks or hasten global warming. Windmills don’t contribute to strokes. But the wind industry does employ more people than the coal industry.

John Hickey, who six months ago filled the Sierra Club’s vacant Chapter Director position in Missouri, doesn’t know how much of that fifty million will come to our state, but he does know that he’ll be getting an additional paid organizer in the fall. And he insists that Missouri should get a sizeable share to reflect our sizeable number of coal plants. The St. Louis area alone has four coal plants. Compare that to the state of Washington, which has one–and that one is slated to be demolished. Oregon too has only one coal plant–also slated to be demolished.

Missouri, says Hickey, gets 85% of its energy from coal, and here’s the bite: we’re buying it from Wyoming! So we are shipping our dollars to another state instead of creating jobs here. Importing coal is not as senseless as refusing to raise the debt ceiling, but it’s pretty damn stupid.

The Sierra Club will do all it can to change that picture, and if the past is any prelude, they’ll succeed.

Picture courtesy of Bruno and Ligia Rodrigues