Last fall, the cover of OnEarth magazine featured a picture of several lumps of coal and a provocative headline: "Coal Comes Clean(er)." The article sparked debate within our own offices as well as among our allies in the environmental movement, and it also generated a stack of letters to the editor.
The debate is welcome. Indeed, it fulfills one of the primary goals of OnEarth, which was founded 25 years ago as a quarterly magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. OnEarth's function is to stimulate ideas and creative thinking on the thorniest environmental policy issues of our time, and the fall issue certainly served that mission.
The stakes in the debate could not be higher: Coal is plentiful and, like it or not, will likely remain a significant source of energy for decades to come in the United States and abroad -- notably in China. Yet the implications of continuing to mine and burn coal in traditional ways are unfathomable, both for the communities destroyed by degrading methods of coal extraction, such as mountaintop mining, and for the planet as a whole, imperiled by calamitous climate change caused by carbon emissions from the combustion of coal and other fossil fuels.
NRDC's position is clear: While we recognize the benefits of new technologies that reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, we have also consistently and actively opposed -- in the courts, in state capitols, and in Congress -- mountaintop removal as an unacceptable and intolerable assault on our land, our water, our air, and our health. We continue to work hard to reduce the "upstream" impact of mining coal -- including threats to the safety of mine workers, who should not have to place their lives at risk -- and the "downstream" impact of emissions from burning coal, which include the triple scourge of climate disruption, air pollution, and acid rain. At the same time, we are focused on promoting alternative sources of energy that are safe and renewable, such as wind and biofuels, and on limiting energy consumption through smart conservation policies and innovations in technology and manufacturing.
The environmental dilemmas of our age cannot be solved by the adoption of one new technology or one grand idea. They must be solved by an array of intelligent, creative strategies. At NRDC our mission is to see these ideas come to fruition in the real world; we have been instrumental in getting such policies adopted in federal legislation and in state houses across the nation. Along the way, it is critical to encourage open, lively debate on the issues -- just as we do in these pages. Our ultimate goal, however, never changes, never wavers: to harness these passions and ideas in order to protect the precious natural resources that form the foundation for the health, security, and well-being of ourselves, our children, and, indeed, of everyone who shares this planet.