Ashley Judd and the Hope of Removing Mountaintop Removal

Big stuff happening on the mountaintop removal front, much of it coalescing today.

First, my dear friend Ashley Judd -- OK, we're not there yet but I have hope -- will be giving a speech that I helped arrange at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  A Kentucky native and ardent activist, she'll be lending her celebrity to shine a spotlight on the ills of the world's worst coal mining.  You can watch the speech live on C-SPAN at 12:30pm ET.

I should also mention that Ahsley lent her voice to this awesome TV commercial on the issue.

Also today, the Tennessee state legislature will be taking another crack at passing a bill to protect Rocky Top by banning mountaintop removal.  Kudos to our local allies at LEAF for their relentless push to pass this important legislation.  And check out these great editorial cartoons on the issue in the Knoxville News-Sentinel

[UPDATE: The TN Senate voted down efforts to revive the Scenic Vistas bill.  “It’s shameful that a bill to protect our environment and our tourism industry died because of parliamentary tricks, political interests and powerful lobbyists,” said State Senator Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga).  He added: "The ban on mountaintop mining has won widespread approval from a range of Tennesseans, including conservation advocates, tourism industry leaders, and faith-based groups, who argue that mountaintop removal destroys God’s creation. Mountaintop removal mining employs less than 400 people in Tennessee, and actually takes away jobs by replacing people with dynamite. Tourism in Tennessee, meanwhile, generates a $14.2 billion economic impact and employs more than 184,700 Tennesseans...The State Senate had a choice between the interests of the coal lobby and protecting our Tennessee way of life. They made the wrong choice.”]

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Duke Energy is making news.  The power company, one of the nation's biggest users of coal, is trying to gauge what it would cost to stop buying coal mined by the controversial practice of mountain coal removal.  North Carolina is one of the nation's top users of mountaintop coal.  About half the electricity used in the state comes from coal-burning power plants, and about half the coal for those plants comes from mountaintop blasting.

Duke, which sells electricity in five states and has 1.8 million customers in North Carolina, is asking its suppliers to estimate the cost of coal that doesn't include any mined by removing mountaintops.  The utility is doing this as part of an internal review of its position on mountaintop removal in light of the Obama administration's intense focus on the controversial mining practice.  Other power companies, such as American Electric Power, are also considering adopting environmental review standards for coal suppliers that could penalize mountaintop mining.

[UPDATE:  Nice editorial in Raleigh News & Observer praising Duke's decision, concluding that "the coal that North Carolina burns should not come from the worst possible place."]

This positive development is one more example of how companies -- from banks to investment firms to utilities -- are beginning to accept that mountaintop removal is rogue mining that is responsible for unacceptable devastation throughout Appalachia.

This particular extreme form of fossil fuel extraction, as well as the the Gulf oil spill tragedy which is exposing the the danger of our nation's dirty energy addiction, are compounded by the findings of a new study from the International Energy Agency which reveals that total global subsidies to dirty fossil-fuel energy amount to $550 billion a year -- about 75 percent more than previously thought. 

The only silver lining I can think of is that perhaps we've reached the tipping point when the overwhelming demand of the American people for clean energy will finally force our elected leaders to wake up and smell the destruction caused by our dirty energy dependence.  Bring on clean energy!