I have finally ended my nearly year-long quest to find out how California’s changing coal economy is affecting the lives of coal dependent communities around the Southwest. I traveled to the Navajo Nation to write about the tribe’s recent purchase of a coal mine, something that never would have happened had California kept buying coal power from the plant the mine supplied. Owning the Navajo Mine (as it is confusingly named) is a huge deal, as I’ve written here previously. The tribe has never owned a piece of the energy infrastructure on the reservation, or gotten a fair cut of the resources beneath its ground. Now it has that opportunity, but many tribal members oppose the deal because it perpetuates their dependence on coal and its damaging ways. Read it here and decide for yourself what you think!
When I learned that the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public power company, was going to close down a number of its coal plants, it seemed like a big deal to people here in the North Fork Valley. That’s because our local coal mines have sold lots of coal to TVA for years. So I blogged about it for High Country News and made a radio piece for KVNF, my local public radio station. In conclusion: decisions made far away affect us even here, a small town where the Rockies meet the desert, where it’s easy to think you’ve escaped the outside world.
It’s really been all coal all the time for me recently. From the story I’m working on for High Country News about changes in the Navajo Nation’s relationship to coal, to covering the EPA’s Denver hearing on carbon dioxide regulations from existing power plants, I’ve been thinking of little else. Here are two recent stories about that Denver hearing: one for the radio and one for HCN’s blog, The Goat.
Multiple times every day, the coal train rattles the windows of my little house as it chugs up to the three coal mines in Colorado’s North Fork valley, fills up, and makes it way back West. I know it goes as far as Grand Junction, Colorado, before being split up, some of the coal heading East where it’s burned in power plants in Tennessee, some of it headed further West. My daily reminder of this industry’s existence is as good an explanation as any for why I’m about to spend the next few months buried in coal policy and economics. It’s hard to forget where your electricity comes from when it’s rumbling past you day after day after day.
Also, there’s this.
I got this sticker at the Western Colorado Coal Conference a couple weeks ago. My environmental journalist friends went crazy for it. But in all seriousness, efforts to market the coal industry right now are pretty interesting to me. That’s also something I’ll be digging into as I ride my own coal train here in the coming weeks and months.