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‘Stripping off coal just doesn’t work anymore, maybe it has to be taken off the planet entirely. It doesn’t make any sense to burn it and then haul it away and send it to a landfill.’ This June, Jim Judge, the executive director of the Appalachian Center for Renewable Energy, delivered his blistering remarks in Huntington, W. Va. a year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent regulations governing coal ash. Though it was the high court that breathed new life into the coal industry with its controversial decision in 2015 upholding the EPA’s carbon-cutting carbon-emissions standards for coal-fired power plants, coal waste is now emerging as a new flashpoint in the environmental movement’s struggle to establish a nationwide clean energy model.
Given the strong poll showing that puts money behind any effort that drives power away from fossil fuels and onto renewables, the idea of phase out of coal is hard to ignore. Indeed, the Appalachia Center has hosted a series of clean energy summits and campaigns held in coal-dependent Appalachian cities, and it sponsored a recent study issued by the Carbon Tracker Initiative that estimates coal is causing annual economic losses of $27 billion by displacing natural gas as the nation’s primary low-carbon source of electricity. Judge, for his part, emphasizes the much higher environmental damage done by natural gas, and was also part of the group that helped to see the coal ash rule struck down by the Supreme Court earlier this year.