Lumps & Diamonds
In coal-happy Kentucky, some mine operators figure you don't need no stinkin' permit to blast the top off mountains. The Sierra Club and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (kftc.org) have caught two coal companies starting mine operations before receiving approval from the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. One, Frasure Creek Mining, has already destroyed streams at three mountaintop-removal sites in areas that provide drinking water for most of the state. "Shirking the law is part of the standard operating procedure around here," said KFTC's Doug Doerfeld.
Four giant coal-fired power plants proposed for the Silver State have been turned down. The dirty-energy stillborn graveyard includes, most recently, Sithe Global's Toquop project, which is being redesigned to burn natural gas. Meanwhile, the state is pursuing ambitious plans for large-scale solar- and wind-power projects, which are well suited to its vast spaces and brilliant sunshine.
Montana governor Brian Schweitzer supports a 1.5-billion-ton coal mine at Otter Creek Valley, but there's a lot of opposition. So he wrote to local governmental agencies, saying that if they wanted to see any federal stimulus dollars for projects like road construction and infrastructure repair, they had to support the mine. "Schweitzer hasn't been able to win public sentiment for his proposed coal mine, and now he seems to be trying to extort support from county officials," Sierra Club field organizer Brad Hash told the New York Times. After the threat hit the papers, Schweitzer backed down and released the funds.
Louisiana is still plagued by petrochemicals, but it's canceling coal projects large and small. In March, unable to line up enough customers, Louisiana Generating abandoned plans to build the proposed $1-billion-plus Big Cajun II coal-fired power plant. Last year energy giant Entergy pulled the plug on a new coal burner at its Little Gypsy plant.
Texas has more proposed coal plants than any other state: 12, in addition to 18 existing plants. Texas was also the first state to challenge the EPA's finding that declared global warming a threat to public health. "The EPA's misguided plan paints a big target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers and the hundreds of thousands of Texans they employ," Governor Rick Perry said.
Thanks to Minnesota's Next Generation Energy Act, which requires coal-fired power plants to offset their CO2 emissions, no new plants have been built in the state. The legislature also passed a measure that slaps a carbon tax on coal-powered electricity from neighboring North Dakota. Meanwhile, Xcel Energy has converted its existing Riverside and High Bridge coal plants to burn cleaner natural gas.
Indiana elected officials' idea of renewable energy is "coal gasification," wherein coal is converted to gas before it's burned. Gasification removes mercury and sulfur, but the only thing renewable about it is a recurring request for ratepayer subsidies. Duke Energy recently raised the projected cost for its new coal-gasification plant to nearly $2.9 billion, twice the original estimate. If regulators agree, Hoosiers will pay a 19 percent premium for their bogus "renewable" energy.
In 2004, Colorado voters passed Amendment 37, mandating that the state get 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015. Three years later, the state legislature doubled that figure to 20 percent by 2020. This March, Governor Bill Ritter signed a bill requiring 30 percent renewables by 2020—exceeded only by Maine and California. The state also plans on retiring 900 megawatts' worth of existing coal-fired power plants—most likely those currently polluting Denver and Boulder.
Southwestern Electric Power Company wants to build a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Arkansas's Grassy Lake, an area famed for its wetlands and wildfowl, and then send 80 percent of its power to Texas. The utility, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, is continuing construction of the power plant even though the Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled that its license is invalid. This spring the case landed in the state supreme court, where backers had to explain why they never held the required public hearing on the $1.7 billion project.
Mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants has contaminated every lake in Wisconsin. Thirteen of these plants are owned by the state and have been challenged by Sierra Club activists under the Clean Air Act. In February, state officials said they would shut down five plants or convert them to another fuel and would review five more for possible closure. —Paul Rauber
Illustration by Daniel Krall