On Earth Day this year, as President Biden assembled world leaders to a climate summit to focus on a "clean energy future," retiredcoal miner Chuck Nelsonhunkered down in the green hills of West Virginia, recovering from a recent stroke and with one remaining kidney, as thousands of tons of explosives from mountaintop removal strip mining operations detonated nearby with atoxic haze of coal dust.
While coal mining has decreased dramatically in recent years,state permits for reckless mountaintop removal operationsby absentee corporations, which involve only small numbersof non-union heavy equipment operators and explosives, in contrast tolabor-intensive underground mines,continue to be doled out in central Appalachia in a desperate attempt to shake down the region for a final coal tattoo.
In fact, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection celebrated Earth Day by rubber-stamping anew strip-mining permitfor an out-of-state coal company, slated to destroy 1,085 acres of forested ridges and wreak havoc for neighboring communities for the next eight years, despitedecades of protestby local citizens andreams of shocking health studiesonheightened cancer, heart andbirth defectrates associated with mountaintop removalmining dust.
"Millions of acres of Appalachian mountains have been permanently destroyed, and thousands of miles of streams have been permanently buried," emailed Nelson, whose wife died from chronic obstructive pulmonarydisease in 2019. "Witha flow of permits being processed right now, thousands more acres are planned to be wiped away forever. As devastating asmountaintop removal mining is to our majestic mountains, and the people's health impacts, only 3% of it is for electrical demand only 3%. Mountaintop removal mining goes against everything we're fighting for in trying to deal with the climate crisis. These are criminal acts carried out by criminal enterprises."
Instead of recognizing thecentury-old legacy of ruin in coal country, from Appalachia to Alaska and 20-odd states and several First Nations in between including an enduring array of abandoned mines, dangerous coal slurry impoundments, fraudulent "reclamation" projects, polluted waterways, desperate black lung victims, and gutted and sick communities with few economic options the Biden administration risks falling into the trap of outdated policies.
Two days after Earth Day applause, the Department of Energyquietly awarded millions of dollars"toboost the economic potential of coal and power plant communities," and subsidize"critical mineral extraction from coal and associated waste streams," as well as widely debunkedcarbon capture and storageschemes.
Listen here:Advocates in coal country have been calling for a Green New Deal since 2008 and acoalfields regeneration fundfor everyone in coal mining communities, not simply the out-of-state companies, and not justthrowing out a few job training opportunities for the dwindling ranks of largely non-union miners.
If the Biden administration and Congress truly want to build back better, theyshould have passed theRECLAIM ACT years ago, simply to start the process of reclaiming and reinvesting in all mining regions.And they should now double down on the commitment and make the Appalachian region, like all extraction zones fromthe IllinoisBasin totheNavajo Nation to thePowder River Basin, a showcase for a clean energy economy, not a backwoods of denial.
If the Biden administration and Congress want to end the war on Appalachia, they should simply pass theAppalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act,which calls for a moratorium on such devastating operations until a basic health study is completed.
The sad truth is that this humanitarian and environmentalcrisishas been a federally sanctioned disaster sinceJimmy Carter begrudginglysignedtheSurface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, complaining that it would allow "the mining companies to cut off the tops of Appalachian mountains to reach entire seams of coal."
Let's repeat that phrase, "cut off the tops of Appalachian mountains" as in the tops of more than500 mountains for over a half-century, literally clear-cutting deciduous forests and the region's ancient carbon sink, blowing ridges into oblivion withexplosives and dumping the toxic remains and pulverized heavy metals in polluted streams, and ravaging the lives of citizens considered collateral damage, along with everything else in the way.
Just listen to Vernon Haltom, director ofCoal River Mountain Watch,based in the frontline extraction zones of West Virginia, not in Washington, an organization thatdeserves as much support as possible:
With millions of Americans seriously ill or dead from the COVIDpandemic, the stockholders and executives of Alpha Metallurgical Resources have no qualms about filling the air in Appalachian communities with carcinogenic blasting dust. Their enablers at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection have no qualms about rubber stamping new and renewed mountaintop removal permits, "just following the law"to sentence innocent people to death and misery. People like WVDEP permit supervisor Laura Claypool face no negative consequences for their actions, apparently not even remorse, but the people face the consequences of death. How do they sleep at night? It's not as if they don't know about the dozens of peer-reviewed health studies demonstrating that mountaintop removal is a deadly public health threat. No, they sleep soundly in the comfort of a steady job doing the coal barons' bidding. The WVDEP has made it personal by approving the death of friends and family like Judy Bonds, Larry Gibsonand Joanne Webb, so they shouldn't be surprised if we make it personal about their cold, inhumane decisions. But since they've proven their incapacity for basic human decency, we need the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, H.R. 2073 in this U.S. Congress, to protect the people.
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Despite the intensifying fight against global warming and climate change, which is supported by some of the worlds largest energy companies, Colombias president Ivan Duque is determined to expand the countrys coal mining. The strife-torn Andean nation is South Americas largest coal producer and the national government is seeking to bolster output as part of its plans to reactivate the economy after it shrank nearly 7% during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duque intends to expand Colombias thermal coal production regardless of the environmental consequences and the governments obligations as a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. A key component of the agreement is that the 196 signatories, including Colombia, will implement greenhouse gas emission-reducing strategies to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius. It is recognized that this can only be achieved if thermal coal is removed from the global energy mix because it produces more carbon emissions than any other fossil fuel. U.S. EIA data shows anthracite coal emits 228.6 million pounds of carbon dioxide per million British thermal units produced, whereas bituminous coal pumps out 205.7 pounds when burned.
Those emissions are nearly double the 117 million pounds of carbon dioxide emitted by natural gas, considered to be the cleanest of the fossil fuels, and around 40% greater than either gasoline or diesel. Bogota intends to expand coal production despite 94% of Colombias proven coal reserves, which amount to more than 5 billion tons, according to the U.S. Geological Survey being comprised of anthracite and bituminous coal, the most polluting types of fossil fuel. This is because coal generates 85% of mining royalties, making it a key driver of government revenue, and is Colombias second-largest export, after crude oil, accounting for 11% of export earnings.
The desperation of the Duque administration to kickstart economic growth, regardless of the cost or its international obligations, is underscored by the ongoing weakness of Colombias economy. Despite lifting the strict lockdown instituted across Colombia in March 2020, to mitigate the spread of the pandemic and implementing a series of measures to promote growth, first-quarter 2021 GDP contracted by (Spanish) a worrying 9% compared to the previous quarter. Unemployment remains stubbornly high with the government statistics agency DANE reporting that nearly 16% (Spanish) of Colombians were unemployed at the end of May 2021. Those shocking numbers can be attributed to the impact of a third viral wave on the economy which forced many of Colombias major cities into partial lockdowns. That makes it difficult to see the Andean countrys economy expanding by 6.5% as its central bank predicts. Even the more modest 5% 2021 GDP growth forecast by the IMF appears difficult to achieve.
The nationwide anti-government protests sparked by Duques inept attempt to hike taxes at the end of April 2021 sharply impacted the economy. Heavy-handed repression by authorities, with independent thinktank Indepaz reporting 44 protestors were killed by police and security forces, caused the protests to explode. Not only are they continuing into their third month, but anti-government protestors established roadblocks that prevented the transportation of food, water, medicines and other crucial supplies in Colombia. Those roadblocks were so significant by mid-May 2021 that Colombian onshore petroleum producers, including national oil company Ecopetrol, were forced to shut-in production.
This sharply impacted Colombias economically crucial oil output, which is responsible for 3% of GDP, nearly a third of exports by value, and almost a fifth of fiscal income. According to data from Colombias petroleum regulator, the National Hydrocarbon Agency (ANH Spanish initials) petroleum output (Spanish) fell to a low of 650,884 barrels daily by 25 May 2021 and had only recovered to 696,672 barrels daily on 24 June 2021. Such a sharp decline in oil production will impact Colombias economic recovery and Bogotas fiscal income. While most roadblocks have been lifted, Colombias economy is struggling to reactivate because of heightened political turmoil as well as insecurity along with limited protests continuing in some cities.
That is only further fueling the Duque administrations desperation to boost economic growth and increase fiscal revenue, with some analysts estimating Bogotas budget deficit could blow out to more than 9% of GDP this year. Those events further emphasize the Duque administrations desperation to reactivate the economy and spark growth by any means available, explain why boosting coal output is perceived to be an important economic lever. Bogota is making good on its plans regardless of the global fight against climate change and Colombias obligations under the Paris Agreement.
The energy ministry reported (Spanish) that first quarter of 2021 coal output soared by a whopping 52% compared to the previous quarter to 13.9 million tons, although that was 28% less than the 19.4 million tons produced a year earlier. Colombias energy minister Diego Mesa foresees increased production because of greater coal demand from China and India. This is despite globally diversified miner Glencore, through its Colombian subsidiary Prodeco, seeking to hand back the licenses for the open pit Calenturitas and La Jaguar coal mines in the department of Cesar.
Glencore determined that after mothballing operations at the mines because of the pandemic it was uneconomic to restart the mines. Initially, the miner sought to keep Calenturitas and La Jaguar on care and maintenance, a plan initially vetoed by Colombias mining regulator the National Mining Agency (ANM Spanish initials). So far, the regulator has rejected Glencores requests to hand in those mining contracts, although a final decision is expected by mid-July 2021.
Mesa expects Asian mining companies to consider acquiring the licenses and investing the capital required to recommence operations at the affected coal mines after the matter is settled with Glencore. Not surprisingly other major miners are seeking to reduce their carbon footprint by divesting their coal mining assets. As part of that strategy global mining giant BHP and Anglo American each agreed to sell their 33.3% interest in Cerrejon, Colombias largest coal mine, to Glencore for a total of $588 million. This will make Glencore sole owner of the controversial Cerrejon mine. The operation suffered a three-month work stoppage from the end of August 2020 until the start of December, sharply impacting Colombias coal output. Earlier this year, the OECD committed to an investigation into human rights abuses and environmental damage at the Cerrejon mine. The ongoing turmoil and uncertainty surrounding Cerrejons operations indicate that further stoppages could occur impacting Colombias coal production.
The desperation of the Duque administration to reactivate Colombias economy and promote growth is easy to understand considering the harsh financial impact of the pandemic, the recent protests, and a ballooning government budget deficit. Nonetheless, by furiously expanding coal production Bogota is not only investing in what is fast becoming a stranded asset, which could eventually become a costly liability, but it is working against the Paris Agreement and the global fight to prevent climate change. Any expansion in coal production will likely only deliver a short-term benefit with many countries, including those Duques government has pinned their hopes on China and India, focused on phasing it out of their energy mix. The resources dedicated to expanding Colombias coal production could be better used to rebuild the crisis-driven countrys hydrocarbon sector which was sharply impacted by the 2020 oil price collapse, the COVID-19 pandemic, and turmoil triggered by recent anti-government protests.
Paypal (PYPL)co-founder Peter Thiels $5 billion Roth individual retirement account balance has some members of Congress second-guessing the tax policies of these investment vehicles. Massachusetts Democratic Representative Richard Neal, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, has requested a proposal to stop IRAs from being exploited, he told ProPublica, which first reported about Thiels Roth IRA. ProPublicas report used tax documents to reveal the tech giants account grew from less than $2,000 in 1999 to $5 billion today, thanks in part to investments in private securities.
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