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Global impacts of dirty energy demand strong local attention


I was very impressed by the two stories on coal mining and electricity generation on the front page of the Dec. 4 Miami Student. James Steinbauer's story was a well crafted piece that traced our campus electricity, step-by-step, back to the coal mines of West Virginia, and the environmental impacts of various steps in this process. Reis Thebault described social and health impacts of coal mining and the closing of mines through the life and times of a man from Kayford Mountain, West Virginia.

I'd like to point out that a retired professor from Miami was very involved in publicizing the environmental impacts of mining coal via mountaintop removal. Orie Loucks, emeritus Eminent Scholar in Ecology and Professor of Zoology, was one of the authors of an essay published in Science magazine in 2010 that documented the massive environmental impacts of mountaintop removal, and argued, "Damage to ecosystems and threats to human health and the lack of effective mitigation require new approaches to mining regulation."

Readers may also be interested to know that most residents of Oxford get their electricity from wind energy, thanks to the City's "Electric Aggregation Program."

Earlier this year, the City negotiated an agreement with AEP Energy to provide all consumers (except those that choose to opt out) with renewable energy. It is my understanding that the negotiated rate is slightly lower than the current rate Duke Energy charges those in our area for electricity generated almost entirely from coal combustion. Last week I received a letter documenting that the electricity sold to Oxford residents by AEP Energy over the previous several months was 100% from wind energy from Texas. However, Miami University's purchase of electricity does not fall within this Aggregation Program, so if you live or work on campus, you are using electricity from coal, as Mr. Steinbauer reported.

Ohio lags behind states like Texas and Iowa in utilizing wind energy to generate electricity, but it was making progress until the state legislature froze the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard that we passed in 2008. That law mandated that by 2025, at least 25 percent of Ohio electricity must come from alternative energy resources, including at least 12.5 percent from renewable sources such as wind and solar, with annual steps towards those goals. This encouraged investment in wind farms, including the Blue Creek Wind Farm, which has 152 turbines, in northwest Ohio between Lima and Fort Wayne. But last year, the legislature froze this standard, and indications are that the current legislature is more likely to repeal it than to allow it to resume.

In August of this year, the federal government finalized its Clean Power Plan, which sets goals for each state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation. While states have flexibility in how they will reach these goals, they will involve some combination of phasing out coal combustion, expanding renewable sources and improving efficiency. Unfortunately, Ohio is one of 24 states that have sued the Administration over the Clean Power Plan. Just last month, the U.S. Senate voted 52-48 for a "resolution of disapproval," saying that the Clean Power Plan "shall have no force or effect."

Phasing out the combustion of coal for electricity would not only stop the environmental impacts of mining, washing and burning coal, but it would help reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that are warming the Earth.

The Obama Administration brought substantial commitments towards this goal to the U.N. Climate Summit underway in Paris and has encouraged efforts by China and other countries to make strong commitments. But at the same time our federal and state representatives are blocking sensible policies that move us in the right direction. Those of us who are concerned about local, regional and global impacts of energy generation need to make our voices heard.

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