“Load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt… ” — Tennessee Ernie Ford

Coal is very low on the scale of subjects for ballads or charming folklore. Like Rodney Dangerfield, it just doesn’t get any respect. What does a naughty boy get in his Christmas stocking? A lump of coal. As a career, few brave souls outside Appalachia would have a goal in life of riding a rail car several miles — down several thousand feet below the surface — to attack the “face” of a coal seam. The thought terrifies me — and probably many others.

One dilemma faced by environmentalists pushing the use of wind farms to generate electricity is that the machines are actually a deadly environmental hazard — to birds. For instance, the huge turbines of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's wind farm in the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles have recently killed two more golden eagles — bringing the total of these endangered birds killed by the turbines' blades at the Pine Tree facility to eight.

In 2007, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). In keeping with Bush’s 2006 State of the Union pledge to make ethanol “not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks of switch grass … practical and competitive within six years,” the law included subsidies for ethanol production and mandates for its use. By 2011, oil companies were required to blend 250 million gallons of this cellulosic ethanol into their gasoline. The mandate doubled for 2012, and by 2022 it will be 16 billion gallons.

Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar has imposed a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on one million acres of public land near the Grand Canyon. The ban would not affect 3,000 mining claims currently staked in the area, which is rich in high-grade uranium.

Due to new federal air pollution regulations, more than 32 power plants across the country will be forced to close their doors, according to a recent Associated Press survey. Those plants, which are mostly coal-fired, discharge enough electricity to supply more than 22 million households, the survey notes, and their closure will lead to job layoffs, depleted tax revenues, and a considerable hike in electric bills. The areas that will be hit hardest are the Midwest and in the coal belt (Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky), where dozens of plants will likely be retired.

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