LETTER TO THE EDITOR: We need to leave carbon in the ground

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 | 3:47 p.m. CST

Editor's note: These comments were made at Monday's EPA Region 7 public hearing in Lenexa, Kan.

I would like to commend the EPA and the administration for having the clear vision to recognize the essential need to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into our atmosphere, our soils and our bodies of fresh water.

My message is simple, honest, and it is supported by every national academy of sciences on Earth that has addressed the topic of climate change. In the interests of retaining an environment that supports human peace and well-being, we must immediately and substantially reduce human production of greenhouse gases and other harmful materials (including mercury, acid rain, fine particulates, heavy metals and organic toxins), including those that are released during fossil fuel combustion.  According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (2009), electric power generation is responsible for more than half of the greenhouse gas production in Missouri.

There is no reason to give existing fossil fuel-powered facilities permission to pollute any more than new plants. If coal can’t become really truly clean, then in the best interests of our species, we need to leave that carbon in the ground.

Why are we spending Missouri treasure on Wyoming coal, when the wind blows free in Missouri, and the sun shines freely here as much as it does in Florida? Home-state solar and wind energy already generate far more jobs for each $1 invested than do fossil fuels. And the cost per kilowatt hour of solar- and wind-generated electricity is now less than that for fossil fuels (and continuing to drop).

Please do the right thing by our children and grandchildren. Help us to leave them a secure future by preventing runaway climate change on a severely polluted planet.  After all, “Spaceship Earth” is the only home we will ever have.

Johann Bruhn, Ph.D., of Columbia has studied forest ecology and forest health professionally for more than 40 years. He can be contacted at

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Michael Williams November 5, 2013 | 4:10 p.m.

On leaving carbon in the ground:

How do you feel about concrete?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 6, 2013 | 9:04 a.m.

To Johann N. Bruhn and Michael Williams:

I'd read the article and decided not to comment, but now I will.

First, hauling mined coal from Wyoming to coal-fired electric power generating plants in the Midwest isn't a great idea, even if there were no consequences from burning the coal. I have previously explained in the Missourian WHY this is being done: the coal can be mined more cost effectively than Eastern coal deposits, and use by Union Pacific of "unit trains" (in this case, all coal cars) keeps hauling costs to a minimum.

Use of Wyoming coal versus Eastern coal creates a further problem: Wyoming coal has generally lower caloric value than many Estern coals. So? You must burn more Wyoming coal to acieve the same heat energy. More tons burned = more carbon dioxide created. That's not rocket science!

As for leaving the coal in the ground, I am okay with that - so long as we can create the needed electrical energy by other means - NOW, not years from now.

Some of our (MS&T) alumni have profited considerably from domestic and international investments in fossilized energy production (all forms) and rail/ocean transfers. I have sold my equities in coal mining; the last was a firm headquartered in St. Louis, which is now deriving much of their income from mining operations in Australia. Much of that coal, which is of a higher caloric content than many Chinese sources, is going to China, which now says it's committed to building 450 new coal-fired electric power plants. BTW China is now the #1 producer of electric power in the world, although if we divide power produced by population it comes nowhere near the United States for per capita power consumption.

Do us (MS&T alumni) a favor: let us know when they plan to stop using Wyoming coal - so we can unload our Union Pacific Railroad stock before the price tanks. And it will tank, because coal hauling has become a significant fraction of UP's business. (I've already switched my railroad equity to BNSF).

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