The Dirty Facts on "Clean Coal

Top Ten Reasons Clean Coal is Dirty


#1: "Clean" Coal Kills People

The United States burns almost a billion tons of coal each year – that’s almost 20 pounds of coal for every person in the country, every day.

The American Lung Association and the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) claims that 13,000 people die each year from coal pollution--down from 24,000 in 2004, when less pollution regulation was enforced. In addition to the premature deaths, CATF estimates that every year coal pollution is responsible for 12,000 emergency room visits, 20,000 heart attacks, and over 200,000 asthma attacks.

See Sierra Club fact sheet: The Health Costs of Coal

Coal's annual death toll is formidable in other countries as well. Recent, credible estimates include:

Coal mining itself results in the death, injury and illness of miners every year, as detailed below.

#2: "Clean" Coal Creates Less Jobs than Real Clean Energy

If you listen to the coal industry, you may get the impression that they are the only energy companies capable of putting people to work. In reality, investments in renewable energy or energy efficiency have been shown to create far more jobs than equal investments in fossil fuel industries (see Green For All citing UC Berkeley, SolarLove citing U-Mass at Amherst, Citizen's Climate Lobby references).

Clean energy industries employ far more people than the coal industry. The U.S. solar industry alone is beginning to overtake the coal mining sector with higher employment figures, according to 2014 data released by the Solar Foundation.

Ironically, while the coal industry and coal-state politicians have accused the Obama administration of waging a "war on coal," coal mining jobs have increased under the Obama Administration as compared to the George W. Bush administration.

#3: "Clean" Coal Is Costly and Expensive

According to a 2011 study published by the late Paul Epstein at Harvard, coal imposes external costs of $350 billion to $500 billion -- half a trillion dollars -- every year in the U.S.
Rather than acknowledge how Americans already are paying these external costs of coal with their own deteriorated health, the coal industry cries foul whenever the government takes even the smallest steps to curb pollution and its deadly impact on the public. Whenever efforts are made to internalize these costs and reduce coal's health impact on people, the coal industry passes higher electricity costs onto its customers and paints protective regulations as if they were new, sudden costs, rather than acknowledging how ignoring coal's toll on human health has been a massive informal subsidy for the industry for well over a Century.
In contrast, coal mining and coal-burning utility industries spend millions of dollars on political contributions and millions more on lobbying the federal government to keep regulations at bay that would result in less coal pollution.

#4: Burning "Clean" Coal is Fuel for Global Warming

Burning coal contributes about 30 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to recent datasets.

Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. According to the United Nations Environment Program, coal emits around 1.7 times as much carbon per unit of energy when burned as does natural gas and 1.25 times as much as oil.

The U.S. is the second-highest carbon-dioxide emitter in the world, after China, and is the second highest per-capita CO2 emitter after Australia.

The external costs of coal listed above don't cover the full scope of climate change. Estimates of the costs of ignoring climate change exceed the costs of addressing climate change by trillions of dollars by 2100, globally.

According to the groundbreaking, peer-reviewed "Carbon Majors" study, tracing all historic greenhouse gas emissions back to specific companies and entities, the coal industries of the world own 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 1854-2010 (PDF p.235)

Image: coal as percentage of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, 2012 data. From Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

#5: "Clean" Coal Kills Miners

Coal mining is a dangerous occupation, with dozens of workplace accident deaths in the U.S. each year, on average. From 2007-2013, 191 U.S. coal miners lost their lives in mining accidents. Tens of thousands of coal miners died at work through the 20th Century.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates of over 29,000 cases of mesothelioma and 26,000 cases of Black Lung from 2000-2010.

Rather than care for suffering workers, the coal industry has hired lawyers and doctors to deny Black Lung disease, rather than protecting its workforce and paying for the treatment they need. According to a Center for Public Integrity investigation honored the Pulitzer Prize, coal's white collar crime defense firms like Jackson Kelly have been caught suppressing evidence of Black Lung to prevent companies from appropriately compensating sick miners, even after decades of famously-strenusous physical labor for those companies and the profit their work provides for wealthy coal executives, lawyers and lobbyists.


#6: "Clean" "American" Coal is Being Exported to Burn in Asia

Despite patriotic advertising claims of "American energy," coal is being exported to Asia to be burned for electricity, where governments don't have strong pollution regulations to protect the health of their people. Beijing, China is becoming increasingly known for horrendous air pollution from combustion from vehicles and industrial activity, including coal, which is responsible for the most harmful particulate matter.

#7: "Clean" Coal Poisons and Wastes Huge Quantities of Water

Coal mining requires an estimated 70 to 260 million gallons of water every day.

More than 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried or damaged by mountaintop removal mining. At least 724 miles of streams were completely buried by valley fills from Appalachian mountaintop removal between 1985 and 2001.

400,000 acres of rich and diverse temperate forests have been destroyed during the same time period as a result of mountaintop mining in Appalachia.

#8: "Clean" Coal Pollutes Seafood and Freshwater Fish

49 U.S. states have issued fish consumption advisories due to high mercury concentrations in freshwater bodies throughout the country.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of human-generated mercury pollution in the U.S. Mercury emissions from electrical generation continues to rise. Mercury in mothers' blood and breast milk can interfere with the development of babies' brains and neurological systems and can lead to learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, problems with coordination, lowered IQ and even mental retardation. Despite these deadly consequences, coal lobbyists have successfully delayed mercury pollution controls for years at the expense of tens of thousands of lives.

Coal-fired power plant emissions also contain many other toxic elements and compounds, including sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxides (NOx), particulate matter, hydrogen chloride (HCl), hydrogen fluoride (HF), arsenic, and heavy metals like chromium and cadmium.

Similar to global warming, black lung disease, and acid rain, coal company lobbyists delay mercury pollution regulations, denying the gravity of the issue rather than proactively finding solutions.

#9: "Clean" Coal Destroys Mountains

Instead of traditional mining, many coal companies now use mountaintop removal to extract coal.

Coal companies are increasingly using this method because it allows for almost complete recovery of coal seams while reducing the number of workers required to a fraction of what conventional methods require.

Mountaintop removal involves clear cutting native hardwood forests, using dynamite to blast away as much as 800-1000 feet of mountaintop, and then dumping the waste into nearby valleys, often burying streams.

#10: "Clean" Coal Costs Billions in Taxpayer Subsidies

The U.S. government continues to aggressively fund coal-related projects despite all that is known about coal’s impacts on health, climate and the economy.

The Department of Energy is currently seeking $648 million for “clean coal” projects in its 2009 budget request, “representing the largest budget request for coal RD&D in over 25 years.”

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