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Revisiting A Dirty Power Deal
Mining Manufacturing Here Will Bring Misery and Pollution to India
Half of Wisconsin may now be rebelling against Gov. Scott Walker’s radical remodeling of state government (corporate tax breaks good, public unions bad) but not long ago many of the state’s elected leaders, including Democrats former Gov. Jim Doyle, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and even the progressive-minded former Sen. Russ Feingold, were united in an uproar concerning what the U.S. Export-Import Bank was doing to mining equipment manufacturer Bucyrus International. It was not Wisconsin’s finest hour.

You may recall that the Export-Import Bank had denied U.S. taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to Reliance Power of India which was seeking to build a mammoth coal-fired power plant complex-- the “Sasan Ultra-Mega Power Project“-- in Central India. The bank ruled reasonably that this project would not meet its new clean energy mandate, coal being the dirtiest fuel there is. But without the federal bank’s funding, Bucyrus was likely to lose a contract to supply the strip-mining machines to extract coal for the power project. Bucyrus claimed its $400 million share of the $917 million loan deal would allow for the creation of nearly a thousand manufacturing jobs across the United States, including about 300 in the Milwaukee area.

Export-Import Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg defended the bank's initial denial of the loan funds last June by saying "President Obama has made clear his administration's commitment to transition away from high-carbon investments and toward a cleaner-energy future." But after Wisconsin’s bi-partisan objection, on Oct. 21st the bank reversed itself and granted approval for the loan guarantees.

Bucyrus machines will not be building the power plants, (six coal plants producing 660 megawatts each) but they will be stripping the surrounding land to mine the vast amount of coal needed to fuel what will be a major source of pollution as well as energy. Five villages and 3,000 acres of agricultural land will be stripped away. According to the Sierra Club, the six plants and the strip mine will produce 26 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, as well as significant amounts of other coal-related, toxic pollutants such as mercury, arsenic, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, lead, coal dust from mining, etc.

Apart from the pollution, whose effects will be both local and global, this “ultra-mega” coal conglomeration, just one of many proposed in India, will displace some 6,000 people now living and farming in the area. Though compensation in land and work for those relocated is required by Indian law, the loss of their work and homes leaves many of the displaced worse off, according to a 2002 report by the International Institute for Environment and Development. It is quite probable that many of the 6,000 will suffer far worse poverty and/or the loss of native livelihoods.

The Export-Import Bank excused its change of heart by stating that Reliance had subsequently promised to include 250 megawatts of renewable energy in its power project plan. But the agreement to build a clean energy component was not a new, negotiated pledge, says Friends of the Earth, which obtained a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding between the bank and the corporation. It turns out that the agreement is not legally binding, nor is it even signed by Reliance Power. Nor will this token green energy proposal significantly reduce the pollution or displacement of the people.

Now Bucyrus, having since agreed to be purchased by Caterpillar, is awaiting approval from the Export-Import Bank for a similar deal with a huge coal plant in South Africa.

We all want good jobs for the American people, but not all work is created equal. The strip mining and burning of coal cannot be ecologically or morally justified, given the great harm coal does to nature and people. Such work (by no means restricted to the coal industry) is what prominent writer and agrarian Wendell Berry has called “inherently destructive.”

Instead of continuing to enable coal’s devastation, we as a state and nation should be halting public investment in coal energy and calling on Bucyrus and other coal-dependent corporations to retool and create work that is beneficial to communities everywhere, not just here.

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