Commentary: High price of cheap electricity

This editorial appeared in The Lexington Herald-Leader.

The wisdom of the aphorism, "there's no free lunch," has been driven painfully home the last few months, as fortunes that had seemed to arise from nowhere evaporated before our eyes.

The disastrous ash spill in Tennessee last month, and yesterday's story that Kentucky is home to ponds with even more toxic chemicals, could give rise to a new truism: There's no cheap electricity.

Coal ash ponds hold the waste that remains after the coal is burned to produce electricity. There are also coal slurry ponds that hold the sludge that's left when coal is washed after it's mined.

It was one of those ponds that broke in Martin County in October 2000, flooding creeks and bottom land with more than 300 million gallons of the waste.

The only reason these ponds, or impoundments, exist is because we mine coal and burn it for electricity.

Kentucky has long relied on coal for virtually all of its electricity and, no doubt, will continue to for years if not decades to come.

Coal comes with a lot of downsides. But every question raised about the dangers of underground mining, the environmental degradation of mountaintop removal mining or, now, the long-term health and other costs associated with hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic material spread across the landscape, run up against the argument that coal gives us cheap electricity.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Lexington Herald-Leader.

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