Two Schools: a changing view of coal in the Midwest?

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A look at last week's news clearly illustrates the fascinating rift developing in the way that Midwestern states are looking at coal right now.

Happily, there are a number of states taking actions that challenge the pundits' view that the Heartland's slavish focus on the dirty rocks will imperil climate advances and public health.

...And then there are states like Indiana, that do not seem to grasp the changes occurring around them....

Old School

The news that that the State of Indiana had hired a former coal industry insider to oversee enforcement of pollution permits was unhappy-making, but not a surprise last week. 

The new Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) appointment is David Joest, whose private sector career involved fighting environmental laws tooth and nail as an attorney for Peabody Coal in Indiana and Michigan. Now as assistant commissioner for the Office of Legal Counsel, he will be in charge of enforcing the laws he did his best to oppose.

Mr. Joest's experience would seem a disadvantage for that particular job, but in a region where coal's human health, environmental and climate change impacts have traditionally been sidelined by foot dragging politicians mysteriously charmed by the commoditization of the dirty little rocks it is indicative of the old school politicians' scrambling efforts to protect their baby against a new clean energy future.

Despite the many jobs likely created by aggressive embrace of the clean energy economy, the reduction of energy bills from energy efficiency, the positive impact to public health from a switch to renewable energy, and the necessary climate protections that would occur; many old school officials are fooling themselves into believing they can keep powering themselves with the same antiquated coal practices and other dirty fuels from a by-gone era.

And so, as the carbon discussions in DC have intensified, so has the scare rhetoric in protection of coal, over the protection of people. Again, look at Indiana where the governor made wild assertions that a national climate and clean energy bill would increase household energy prices by 50% --- and worth noting that the comments came before there was any bill before Congress, so assumedly the numbers were plucked straight out of polluted air.

Thankfully, there is a new school in the Midwest too.

Six governors (and one Canadian premiere) are set to reverse the trend with a regional climate agreement that will move their states forward on a clean energy path. Their signatures will cap carbon pollution, safeguard the public well-being, jump start state economies, protect the climate, and push the region away from the outdated delusions that would otherwise keep us tied to 19th century technologies.

I look forward to Governor Quinn's signature on the agreement. The ascendant thinking from Illinois and the other participating states can give added momentum to the national climate debate and create the signal to help bring the Old School along.


Indiana Couple (crop 2) photo by Kevin Saff via Flickr shot in Michigan City, IN.