Coal and other fossil fuel development is based on the practice and principle of externalizing costs, shoving them onto the general public and onto the natural world in the form of pollution, impacts to human health, and destruction of land and water resources. These costs are rarely, if ever, reflected in the price consumers pay. Coal, for example, is a dirty, financially risky fuel of the past filled with substantial hidden costs to society. Every new coal project puts off America’s transition to clean energy and is a step backward at a time when America needs to be reaching for a future of clean and renewable energy sources.
Due to declining domestic coal consumption, coal companies are looking for ways to rev up production and have set their sights on Asian markets. There are currently 9 proposals to exponentially export coal from Montana and Wyoming coal mines on trains through the Pacific Northwest and onto barges eventually shipped to Asia. If these proposals go through, we’re looking at an additional 60 trains per day dissecting our communities.
Oregon Rural Action has two responses to the many fossil fuel proposals facing our region. First, we shine a light on the true costs of fossil fuel development so that people, land, and water do not unfairly bear those costs. In some cases, that means changing the way development is approached and ensuring that laws are enforced; in some cases, it means preventing certain developments because they are inherently unjust.
Second, our members understand that making progress to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels also means (1) helping people to understand the practical value of renewables and energy efficiency, and (2) helping people overcome institutional and policy obstacles to increased use of renewables and energy efficiency. Therefore, Oregon Rural Action is promoting opportunities that energy efficiency and renewable energy can offer to rural Oregon.
We have significant solar opportunity in Eastern Oregon. Together with an aggressive energy efficiency program, solar represents a viable alternative to coal in terms of employment opportunities, tax base, and a source of electricity. A recent report prepared for the Civil Society Institute outlines a plan to meet our nation’s energy demands by phasing out coal and increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.