We all know coal is a terrible thing. It’s dirty, it causes massive amounts of pollution, it’s dangerous to get out of the ground, and doing so often leaves whole areas devastated. It’s a crappy, horrible source of fuel, and we need to get rid of it.
So…why don’t we? Why not just ban coal?
I’m not talking about some presidential decree that, as of tomorrow, no coal shall be mined or used or anything else. I’m talking about something a bit more gradual, that will give regions dependent on coal extraction, or those who use coal for electricity, a bit of time to adjust.
Here’s how I’d do this. No more coal-fired electrical plants should be approved or built after January 1, 2015. Those that have already been approved, or are under construction, will be allowed to be completed. Next, no new coal mines would be permitted, and those that exist would not be allowed to expand past, say, January 1, 2018 or so. At this point we will have capped the number of coal plants, and the number of coal mines. We will know there is an end point.
With that in mind, we would need to take care of those people whose livelihoods depend on coal. If you’re a coal miner who has been working, say, ten years on the mines, and you’re over the age of fifty, then you should just be automatically eligible for full-level social security. Realistically, it’s unlikely that you’re going to find a job that pays as well as mining does (and union mines often pay very well indeed), and so we can help out there. If you’re under fifty, or have been employed in the mines for less than ten years, you should get free college and/or technical school education for, say, four years. That should also be an offer to the older workers, if they want it.
Then we have the problem of areas that use coal for electricity. We can and should start bringing new power sources online. Ideally these would be solar or wind plants. Nuclear and natural gas plants are also acceptable. No oil plants, however.
Yes, this is going to be expensive. But we need to do it. Coal is really horrible all around, and despite the industry lies, there’s no such thing as “clean” coal. It’s a terrible thing, and contributes mightily to global warming (if you’re still on the fence about that, btw, check out the most recent episode of Cosmos). Yes, China is still using coal, but just because they are doesn’t mean we have to. We should always have our bar set a little higher than, “China does it.”