So it's increasingly common knowledge that coal is the enemy of the human race, a phrase popularized by David Roberts over on Grist. But in the absence of federal regulations constraining carbon emissions, coal plants are still churning out carbon dioxide and warming the planet. While the federal government drags its feet, major national environmental groups and grassroots local organizations have started teaming up to take on the coal industry plant by plant, as the Los Angeles Times reports today.

Environmental and community rights advocates have challenged the construction of new plants with lawsuits in places like Kansas, Georgia and Wyoming. They claim 65 victories over the last three years in lawsuits that have raised questions about air and water quality in the areas surrounding the proposed plants. There are also efforts underway to prevent the construction of 50 more proposed power plants. The idea is that the lawsuits can delay or even stop construction of new plants by gumming up the works, making the projects more expensive by introducing litigation fees, and setting precedents for future proposed plants. Industry reps are now even advising their clients to plan their budgets and building schedules around litigation, since it's pretty much inevitable now with each new proposed plant. By pushing on each individual plant, these activists hope to build the pressure for national legislation to put limits on carbon emissions, which will severely hamper the coal industry's ability to propagate without some serious efforts at becoming more environmentally sustainable.

The plant-by-plant approach is an ingenious way of getting around the current stagnation in Congress on solid climate legislation. But it can't solve the problem entirely, as legislation is needed to limit the emissions on the old coal plants that still produce half of our country's electricity.

--Kate Sheppard