Letter: Let coal mining die

Congratulations to Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot and Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron for signing on to the Mountain Pact letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (“Carbondale and Aspen mayors sign to require coal companies to pay royalties,” The Aspen Times, May 10). This letter supports closing the loophole that allows coal companies to pay so little for coal with no remuneration to the Western states from whence that coal was taken. This is an important step in reducing the hidden subsidies that coal receives in this country, making it artificially cheaper than other, less carbon-intensive fuels.

However, I object to Bernot’s statement that her board is “not opposed” to coal mining.

It’s hard to meet your carbon-reduction goals if you don’t actually reduce your carbon output. Coal has the highest ratio of carbon output of all fossil fuels. Approximately 40 percent of total U.S. energy-related carbon pollution is from coal-fired plants, which is why the Environmental Protection Agency has targeted these plants as the best way to cut our carbon output.

Coal accounts for most of the mercury pollution in our seafood, as mercury released from burning coal mixes with rain and falls down on our oceans and streams. That’s what’s ruining your tuna and swordfish, folks. Coal.

Yes, there’s a transition period to clean energy, as Bernot pointed out, but coal mining doesn’t have a place in it.

Last fall, in Delta County, 150 coal jobs were cut because of plant layoffs, and not long before that, 300 jobs were lost. This was partially because coal is a dirty fuel and partially due to new market forces, namely the abundant supply of natural gas, which has a smaller carbon footprint.

While it’s good to sympathize with your neighbors, it’s more productive to help them prepare for change. Our state senator, Kerry Donovan, introduced a bill to help these communities (Senate Bill 15-036) through a rural economic emergency grant program. Sadly, it died a quick death in our highly politicized Colorado Senate. It might be more helpful to Delta County to raise some support for Donovan’s bill so she could get it passed.

Alternatively, that coal royalty money could be used for more Colorado Rural Economic Development Initiative grants or for tax breaks to help new businesses enter the community. Certainly there are nongovernmental organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Institute or Mountain Pact that could help drum up some good ideas as well as help find the funds to get it all going.

Regardless of a letter from the Mountain Pact, coal mining is on its way out. It’s choking and gasping to stay alive but dying nonetheless.

A little forward thinking would be more helpful in reducing the pain of families than protecting a toxic and anachronistic industry.

Jill Soffer