Interior to Lease More Wyoming Coal; Michigan’s Unfinished Oil Spill Clean-Up

The renewable era is still far away. Despite the attention and rhetoric that has been given over to green energy projects, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced this week that coal companies would be able to take a whack at mining 2.35 billion tons of coal in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. A new oil slick appeared off the coast of Louisiana. And Japanese authorities warned Tokyo residents that the city’s water contained levels of radioactive material unsafe for infants to consume.

The black rock

Grist’s Glenn Hurowitz calls Big Coal’s new opportunities in Wyoming “an enormous expansion in coal mining that threatens to increase U.S. climate pollution by an amount equivalent to more than half of what the United States currently emits in a year.” The Powder River Basin is the most productive coal region in the country, and as the Interior Department noted in its announcement of the coal lease sale, Wyoming as a whole accounts for 40% of all coal used in domestic electricity generation. (In John McPhee’s 2005 New Yorker piece on coal trains, he follows coal mined in the Powder River Basin to a power plant in Georgia, for instance.)

The DOI emphasized the role of coal in the country’s energy mix and its importance for creating jobs in Wyoming; Hurowitz read a different message in this announcement. His analysis is scathing:

Despite his administration’s rhetorical embrace of clean energy, Obama is effectively using modest wind and solar investments as cover for a broader embrace of dirty fuels. It’s the same strategy BP, Chevron, and other major polluters use: tout modest environmental investments in multi-million dollar PR campaigns, while putting the real money into fossil fuel development.

Exposure to radiation

At Truthout, H. Patricia Hynes has a similarly dour view of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the country’s nuclear power plants. “This regulatory agency has never seen a nuclear plant it didn’t like,” she writes.

Since the nuclear crisis in Japan, American leaders have been at pains to remind nervous citizens that nuclear energy is cleaner than coal and will continue to contribute to U.S. power. But as Hynes points out, even in the absence of crisis, nuclear plants come with consequences: they leave behind radioactive tailings, depleted uranium and spent nuclear fuel. And during their life cycle, Hynes writes:

Nuclear power plants routinely release small amounts of radioactive isotopes during operation and they can release large amounts during accidents. For this latter reason, a 2003 expert panel of the National Academy of Sciences recommended that potassium iodide pills be provided to everyone 40 and younger who lives near a nuclear power plant to protect against exposure to radioactive iodine.

Of course, the risks in a crisis are great, too. In Japan, people living near the Fukushima plant are being exposed to levels of radiation higher than they should be, Democracy Now! reports. Aileen Mioko Smith, director of Green Action, in Kyoto, told Amy Goodman, “The Japanese government admitted that 30 kilometers outside—this is not an evacuated zone—a person could have been exposed to as much as 100 millisieverts of radiation. That would be twice the amount of the evacuation threshold established by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organization. And yet, the Japanese government refuses to evacuate people from beyond a 20-kilometer—that’s a 12-mile—area.”

Snake oil

The full impact of the nuclear crisis in Japan may not be obvious for years; that’s one of the reasons radiation exposure plays on people’s fears so effectively. One of the scary things about nuclear meltdowns or oil spills or coal smog is that it takes a long time for the negative effects to be dealt with. Michigan, for instance, is still struggling with the aftermath of the oil spilled in the Kalamazoo River this summer.

This spill was smaller than the BP disaster, but as’s Jamie Friedland reports, activists are finding oil in supposedly cleaned sections of the river and a clean-up worker was fired after he witnessed and then talked about other workers hiding oil they were supposed to be dealing with. And, Friedland writes, the county-level task force that was supposed to be watching the process has accomplished little in its short existence.

These sorts of stories are playing out all of the time, on larger and smaller scales. As Care2′s Beth Buczynski writes, another well in the Gulf Coast is leaking. It has released only a small amount of oil, but it’s a reminder that our energy system is routinely polluting the environment.

These pollutants pose a danger to people, too, and for years after they have entered the system. At In These Times, R.M. Arrieta writes about the impacts of development by Lennar Corporation at Hunters Point Naval Ship yard, a Superfund site. Arrieta writes, “When Lennar started grading a hillside, heavy equipment breaking the serpentine rock in the hill released plumes of naturally occurring asbestos. Nearby residents complained of bloody noses, headaches, breathing problems and increased incidents of asthma attacks.”

That is just one of the problems the community has encountered so far. It’s convenient to believe we can regulate and control the dangerous materials we introduce into the environment, but all too often, it turns out, we can’t.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.

Related Stories:

New Oil Spill Spreading Across The Gulf Of Mexico

What We Need to Learn from the Japanese Earthquake and U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

Protest Brings Consequences of Coal Mining To The Fed’s Doorstep


Photo courtesy of mrwalter via flickr
by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger


W. C
W. C5 days ago


William C
William C5 days ago

Thank you for caring.

Louise D.
Louise D6 years ago

The oil and mining companies are really only interested in profit, which explains why the electric car was quickly killed off in the 1990's so people would get gas guzzling SUV's instead. The fact that oil prices are rising so quickly does not bother them as it is merely more profit for them.

Sumit jamadar
Sumit jamadar6 years ago


Janet K.
Janet K6 years ago

Fire Ken Salazar. enemy of the Earth!

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm6 years ago

Oil, coal and natural gas companies are so incredibly rich they don't even care who the president is anymore. They don't have to buy him. They simply buy the legislative branches. Blaming this on presidents is silly. All they can try to do is some token public demonstration that he is doing something.

In Truth, he can do very little. He is ONE man fighting a PROFIT machine. He TRIES to fight it as much as he is allowed to. Bush didn't fight them at all.

It is painfully apparent to anyone truly watching the Obama went in with an agenda he believed in and was swiftly shown he had no power to implement any of it. A determined corporate community call the shots and the presidents pleads for ANY amount of fairness. As long as the legislative branches are for sale the president is F**ked!

Michael Kirkby
.6 years ago

I've said it before - we only think we elect our leaders. In America Wall Street is the real government and they take their orders from the big guys in Europe. This is why we have so many environmental fiascoes that result in a dead environment and sometimes a lot of people.
Firstly, Japan's reactors were of the GE Mark 1 variety that had flaws. Two GE research scientists actually resigned in protest over utilizing this make because of design flaws. The newer thorium reactors that have been tested in China are safe; don't need to be built near cities or water or need water to cool them.
Secondly there are safe, environmentally responsible technologies available to the drilling and mining firms. The problem is that it takes longer and is more expensive to utilize these newer methods. With the Corporatists anything that affects the bottom line or profit gets short changed or buried very quickly.
Certainly we need to drill and mine. There is no excuse for us not to take less profit and yet leave a healthy environment. It's covetousness that results in avarice. Covetousness is the root cause of all the other negative behaviors.
The Gulf is a good example. The Oil firms want a free drilling zone where there are no environmental controls; and no locals to deal with. In Michigan I can only feel that these lazy people either don't care or have been told to cover up the untreated amounts of oil. It's still about profit. Who in Michigan et al profits?

Rosie Lopez
Rosie Lopez6 years ago

thanks for sharing!

Bette M.
Bette M6 years ago

Sound Mind says
Mar 28, 2011 2:01 PM
Bette M, everybody has a right to their opinions, regardless of the source of their "information" or how totally twisted and unrealistic their out look might be. You know the tried and true saying "opinions are like a**holes. Everybody has one". The exception might be that some a**holes don't really have an opinion of their own, they just repeat what they heard from unreliable sources.

Sound M. Thanks for your opinion on my opinion. Please read parts or all of the Bush Dynasty book. Am sure it will open your eyes to the whole clan & how they have operated over the years. And the Bush legacy is little different from Obama's tactic. Only real difference between the two is the Bush clan were experienced con artist. Obama & followers rode on the premise of gimme' a chance/It will make a real different with me as your president.
Between the two men it has been the same difference & neither one has done anything great & grand for this country.

Plant & protect Danny's trees for life in 2011.......

Shelly Peterson
Shelly Peterson6 years ago

I just finished reading the article titled"America"s Atomic Time Bomb", concering Hanford Nuclear Plant, here in my home state!!..CHECK IT OUT TOO!!...Add it to this article,...and We NEED more petitions to sign ,PLEASE! Thankyou!