November 18, 2015

Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, #BigCoal and #KeepItInTheGround

Jeremy Nichols, climate director,
Wild Earth Guardians, advocate for
Keep it in the Ground strategy
From one of my favorite magazines, High  Country News, a go-to source for environmental and other news from the Western states, we have two juxtaposed stories.

The first is about Florida presidential candidate and senator-in-absentia Marco Rubio rounding up plenty of endorsements from Western Republican elected officials. As part if it, it notes that Rubio's pandering on anti-environmental stances may be near the bottom of all GOP presidential candidates, and that's lower malebolge territory indeed.

The second is about Hillary Clinton seeking votes and support in coal-producing areas of the West. I don't have a problem with job retraining or other issues — if it's not for coal alone. Remember, we export both jobs and pollution to places like China. Their more inefficient industries cause more acid rain than ours (for Japan, Taiwan and the Koreas as well as China) and more carbon dioxide to warm the whole world than ours. So, job retraining for coal miners should be no more robust than job retraining for jobs lost to "free" trade (and those largely unenforced "side agreements" on both labor and environmental issues that started with Clinton's husband and NAFTA).

Beyond retraining, continued and expanded support for the West's abundant resources on solar and wind energy should be priority No. 1. Yes, they don't have a lot of permanent jobs at individual sites, but let's get more solar panels and wind turbines manufactured there. (Note: Solar and wind need to themselves be environmentally friendly; bigger wind turbines helps there, but thermal solar, at least currently, is a big, big bird killer.)

This, Big Coal, relates to a third story (subscription required). It notes that 40 percent of U.S. coal is mined from federal reserves. In other words, don't think West Virginia and private mountaintop removal. Think BLM lands like the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. It also notes that this is one of President Obama's weakest areas on climate change: his "all of the above" energy strategy has been applied to coal as well as oil on BLM lands.

Jeremy Nichols, leading the charge to "keep it in the ground," is no outsider. He's from Boise, and his dad worked for the BLM. As his activism notes, part of the problem is that Washington has been hands-off on a lot of this, leaving interpretation of environmental impacts and other permitting issues to individual BLM districts.

In any case, the battle has only begun. Nichols says he does "opposition research" at places like Interior Department "listening sessions." I hope he learns strategies that do address local economic concerns, and that he learns to be careful on his language and its possible misinterpretation.

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