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Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with "The End of Nature" in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. The group he founded, 350.org, has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. The Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was "probably the country’s most important environmentalist."
Alexis Tsipras, a member of the Hellenic parliament, president of the Synaspismos political party since 2008, head of the SYRIZA parliamentary group since 2009, and leader of the Opposition since June 2012. SYRIZA currently leads in Greek opinion polls. Listen to the audio here.
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"Rand Paul: Making a Point," by Reginald Johnson, March 8, 2013
"The Bipartisan Gift: Budget Cuts," by Reginald Johnson, March 2, 2013
"Fighting for Gun Control," by Reginald Johnson, Feb. 18, 2013
"Tyranny of the Minority," by Reginald Johnson, Jan. 28, 2013
"Is President Obama About to Betray Those Who Re-elected Him Less than 2 Months Ago?" by Scott Harris, Dec. 21, 2012
"Will the Slaughter of the Innocents in Newtown Lead to Gun Law Reform in U.S.?" by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo, Dec. 16, 2012
"My Friend in Sandy Hook," by Doug Moss, posted by Scott Harris, Dec. 16, 2012
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Interview with Conrad Schneider, advocacy director of the Clean Air Task Force, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
In September, the Clean Air Task Force released a report titled, "The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source," The report noted that emissions from coal-fired power plants contribute to global warming, ozone smog, acid rain, regional haze, and perhaps most consequential of all, from a public health standpoint -- fine particle pollution.
One estimate cited in the study found that while 13,200 deaths in the U.S. were attributable to fine particle pollution in 2010, that figure was nearly double for deaths linked to coal-fired power plants in 2004. The health consequences were reduced, the report finds, due to clean-up regulations targeting coal burning facilities at the state and federal levels, but much more still needs to be done.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Conrad Schneider, advocacy director of the Clean Air Task Force, about the latest developments, and some of the contradictions inherent for those living near coal extraction sites when it is cleaned up for burning in plants, often hundreds of miles away.
CONRAD SCHNEIDER: Since 2004, probably the biggest news is that the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution has been cut in half nationally, and the reason for that is the installation of about 130 new emission control devices -- typically they're called scrubbers. And as a result of that reduction in pollution, the number of deaths, for example, due to coal-fired particulate pollution, has dropped from the 2004 level, which was 24,000, down to a little over 13,000 in this year. So that's the good news. The bad news is that 13,000 people dying prematurely from coal plant pollution is still too many, and it's unacceptably high. What this report points to is that we can finish this job. By installing over 100 scrubbers, we were able to cut pollution in half without noticing any increase in electric prices, natural gas prices and without seeing any problems with reliability in the power system. That means we can go further and if we are resolute about cleaning up the rest of the plants, we can finish the job of reducing this toll from coal.
BETWEEN THE LINES: When I was in West Virginia last year, I met folks who said that as requirements for cleaner coal for power plants went into effect, the coal was cleaned near where it was mined and the cleanup left their communities with even more toxic pollution. Does the Clean Air Task Force have a position on whether coal should be phased out as soon as possible, or do you just want to clean it up?
CONRAD SCHNEIDER: I think the fact of the matter is that from cradle to grave, coal is probably the most damaging fuel we have. We put out a report several years ago, actually called "Cradle to Grave," which documented all the ways that coal is devastating to the environment. And when you allude to the notion in West Virginia that the coal has to be cleaner when it's delivered to the power plants, that some of the residue is left behind; that's exactly right. They call it "spray and pray" because they treat the coal land, then they move it out. The problem is that nationally, half of our power comes from coal and in West Virginia, almost 100 percent of it comes from coal, and wishing is not going to make that go away. I guess our position is, as long as we're going to have coal, it needs to be tightly regulated, so its emissions and waste products do as little to foul the air as possible, as we're transitioning to a cleaner energy economy.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Conrad Schneider, what about the dangers of coal ash? Does your organization address that?
CONRAD SCHNEIDER: A little over ten years ago -- actually, it was during the Clinton administration -- to deal with the problem of the disposal of coal ash. In this country every year, the residue from the burning of coal, the scrubbing of coal, all the different by-products that come as a result of coal burning, create enough ash, if you want to call it that, or waste, to fill the Grand Canyon. Every year. And this stuff is being put into slurry ponds, unlined landfills, backfilled into mines ... there's such a volume of it they're putting it wherever they can. It's coming out of our ears, and it's full of heavy metals and toxics. We believe it should be treated as a hazardous waste by the government. And so we petitioned EPA to do that, and finally, after years bouncing around in the courts and so forth, the Obama administration has proposed a coal ash rule, which is due to go final soon, which hopefully can finally make that a hazardous waste and require proper disposal. Now, there are a variety of beneficial reuses that means not every single cubic meter of it needs to be disposed of in a lined landfill. But right now it's completely unregulated; states are left to do whatever they want with it. It has less regulation than town landfills for household garbage. So we believe the Obama administration should finalize a tough coal ash rule to deal with that problem.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Is this the regulation where the EPA has presented two different options?
CONRAD SCHNEIDER: That's exactly right. To be a little technical about it, there are two options under RCRA [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act], which is the waste disposal statute, and one of them is a D as in dog waste, and one of them is a C, as in cat waste. We're arguing that coal ash needs to be treated as a C waste, which would make it hazardous. There are some modifications to that that would allow truly beneficial reuses of the waste which would avoid the hazardous label, but the D classification would essentially just leave this again up to the states, and so far, that has proven inadequate.
For more information, call the Clean Air Task Force in Boston at (617) 624-0234 or visit their website at www.catf.us