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Why Solidarity is Needed More than Ever between Coal, Gas and Incinerator Fighters


- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

Most progress in stopping polluting energy and waste industries is accomplished by grassroots activism, stopping one project at a time. Many assume that grassroots groups are "NIMBY" types just pushing polluters from one community to another. However, 50% to 95% of each wave of industrial development in recent decades has been blocked, be it coal, gas or nuclear power plants, biomass or waste incinerators, landfills or related industries. Most groups quickly move from NIMBY to "Not in Anyone's Backyard" (NIABY) mindsets once they see the bigger picture and get networked with similarly-targeted communities. 

We need to step up the solidarity in the face of new trends, however. We're seeing coal use declining, but rising record levels of natural gas use, and stronger-than-ever push for waste and biomass incineration as a climate solution. We're even seeing this in the Obama Administration's CO2 and waste deregulation rules, which threaten to do more harm than good as coal power plants are encouraged to switch to these false solutions.

It's now fairly well documented that natural gas is worse than coal for the climate, due to leakage throughout the system and the fact that methane is now known to be 86 to 105 times worse than CO2 over a 20-year time-frame. It's also now well-documented that trash incineration is 2.5 times as bad as coal for the climate, and that biomass incineration is 50% worse -- and that these are not "carbon neutral" as claimed. It's also a fact that trash incineration is far worse than coal by every other measure of pollution. 

Despite these facts, EPA is pushing an unprecedented deregulation effort that will allow wastes to become "fuels" that can be burned, unregulated and without community notification, in coal power plants and even your neighborhood elementary school's boiler. This waste-to-fuels rule is a giant, undiscussed loophole.

It's urgent that we band together comprehensively as anti-combustion advocates. Just as it's not acceptable to stop a coal plant and encourage it to be built in the next county or state, it's not acceptable to allow the coal plant in your area to switch to burning trees, trash or gas when those impacts will be felt locally, globally, and across a different set of impacted communities where gas or trees are extracted, pipelines are built, or toxic ash is dumped.