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Sierra magazine
Coal vs. Clean Energy

KING COAL'S THRONE IS STARTING TO TEETER. The industry has been battered by the disaster at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, which killed 29 miners. Less acknowledged are the 10,000 mine workers who have died from black lung disease in the past decade, or the 10,000 people who die every year, according to the National Academies of Science, from coal-fired-power-plant pollution.

Across the country, the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign and other groups have been defeating proposals for new coal-fired plants, fighting mountaintop-removal mines, and pushing states to require utilities to provide a specified percentage of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar by a certain date—what's known as a "renewable-energy standard."

Coal divides our nation. Twenty-five states mine coal, but 35 have renewable-energy standards (noted on the map, below), of varying degrees of toughness. Clean-energy activists are busy in almost every state; a sampling of battlegrounds is highlighted here. For a clickable state-by-state map, visit, and then go take on King Coal where you live. —Paul Rauber

ALASKA Environmentalists are fighting the proposed Chuitna coal mine, an enormous open-pit operation that would severely damage one of the state's finest wild salmon runs.

KENTUCKY There are more than 50 proposed mountaintop-removal mines in the state. Many may be blocked by the new EPA guidelines on mine drainage.

COLORADO A bill signed by Governor Bill Ritter requires 900 megawatts of coal-fired capacity to be retired.

TEXAS Texas produces more coalderived power than any other state— and more wind power. Activists are fighting 12 new coal facilities.

WEST VIRGINIA In the heart of coal country, a $6 million grant from the Obama administration will help train 1,800 people in wind-energy and biomass technology.

MISSISSIPPI Coal foes are fighting a 45-square-mile open-pit mine for lignite, the dirtiest form of coal (a.k.a. "brown dirt"), proposed by Mississippi Power, a division of the Southern Company.

CALIFORNIA Los Angeles has pledged to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by the end of 2010 and to kick coal altogether by 2020.

MICHIGAN The Clean Energy Now coalition managed to whittle eight proposed coal-fired plants down to three, and it is now focusing on the huge, 930-megawatt Consumers' Energy plant in Bay City.


Map and illustrations by Daniel Krall



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