COAL – THE “COMEBACK KID”?

Mining

COAL – THE DIRTIEST FUEL

Despite a multi-million dollar media campaign by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), Americans are catching on to the fact that there is no such thing as clean coal.  The ACCCE and its membership, consisting primarily of those with an eonomic interest in coal production, transport and combustion, have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to prolong the support for coal.  But what are the real costs and who is paying the price?

In reality:

  • Per unit of energy produced, coal is the dirtiest fuel in commercial use today, responsible for over a third of our nation's carbon emissions, the polluter of hundreds of miles of streams, the single greatest source of atmospheric mercury emissions and a contributor to human health and respiratory problems.
  • Coal combustion releases over 70 harmful chemicals into the environment, including sulfur dioxide, fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and mercury.
  • African American and Hispanic and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by power plant emissions because they are concentrated in large urban centers.  Impacts include higher rates of asthma, lung disease, neurological damage, heart complications, missed work, school absences and lost income.
  • In November of 2009,a report by the Physicians for Social Responsibility detailed coal’s significant impact on human health. The report concluded that coal pollutants affect all major body organ systems and contribute to four of the five leading factors causing mortality in the U.S.  Their assessment:  each year in the U.S. tens of thousands of deaths may be attributable to coal, in addtion to hundreds of thousands of serious illnesses.
  • The environmental costs of destructive coal mining practices such as mountaintop removal were starkly documented in a recent issue of the journal Science. The unmitigated and on-going damage to the Appalachian mountains in the form of forest clearing, altered hydrology, water pollution and loss of species diversity point to the incalculable cost to eco-systems.
  • Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed over 1.4 million acres of Appalachian mountain habitat and resulted in the filling nearly 2,000 miles of headwater streams.
  • Technology for capturing and storing carbon dioxide is still in the research and demonstration stage.  It is not yet in use on a commercial scale and may never be because of high production costs, energy inefficiency and the risk of carbon dioxide escaping from underground storage.

ILLINOIS – BRIGHT SPOT IN A DECLINING ECONOMY

Why Illinois?

Illinois has vast reserves of high-energy, high-sulfur coal that lay under much of our state. But when the Clean Air Act was amended in the 1990’s, Illinois' coal was determined to be too polluting to burn, putting an end to much of that state's coal mining industry.

Phase I of the Act required American industries to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide emissions produced by their coal-burning power plants. Although the installation of scrubbers would have enabled companies to reduce the pollution from high-sulfur coal, most preferred to switch to a low-sulfur coal product rather than install costly pollution control equipment.

But now, new federal rules are forcing power plants to add SO2 scrubbers to remove pollutants, making high-sulfur Illinois coal more cost competitive with low-sulfur coal once again. 

Over the past few months, coal production overall in the United States has been on the decline.  The factors are many, and include stiff competition from oil and natural gas; and bankruptcy by companies who produced to meet anticipated domestic and foreign market demands.

Despite these setbacks, Illinois remains one of the strongest markets.  We think that Illinois coal will remain a valuable commodity - at least for the short term - while transition from coal to renewables takes place. That's why Eco-Justice Collaborative is advocating reinvesting in the Heartland by adopting a coal severance tax that would generate revenue, the majority of which would be returned to communities impacted by coal. 

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Watch the Impacts of Coal Mining in Illinois
Photos are from EJC delegations to central and southern Illinois

Impacts

Mining for coal can be destructive to our  land and water resources. Burning it pollutes the air and causes premature deaths.  Yet - last year, coal supplied about 30% of our planet’s energy needs!  But coal also is responsible for a third of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas producing climate change.James Hansen, chief climate scientist, NASA, says we need to stop burning coal by 2030 if we want any chance of preserving life on this planet for future generations.

Eco-Justice Collaborative’s delegations to central and southern Illinois highlight the destruction of corporations’ quest for coal and profit.  Impacts destroy land, water and lives.  They include:

Subsided farmland from longwall mining - This is a highly mechanized form of mining that uses a machine with a 5.5-foot shearer to cut slices 3.5 feet thick from a coal seam that’s 1,400 feet wide - i.e., a long wall of coal.

Pollution of surface and groundwaters from coal slurry - Slurry, a byproduct of processing coal, contains arsenic, heavy metals and other pollutants that are stored in large impoundments that rise 100 feet or more above adjacent agricultural lands. Slurry from Monterey 1 Mine near Germantown, Illinois found its way into a shallow aquifer from a coal slurry impoundment, severely contaminating groundwater.  In Carlinville, Illinois pollutants have been found under property near the Shay 1 Mine.

Injection of coal slurry into abandoned mine shafts - The state has already allowed the practice at the Crown Mine 3 near Girard, and the owner of the Shay 1 Mine near Carlinville in central Illinois. The danger is serious enough that the practice of injecting coal slurry into the ground has been curtailed in West Virginia.

Coal dust from outdoor storage piles, loading areas - Coal dust that blows across open fields from stockpiles and loaded coal cars staging on adjacent train tracks is a public health concern.  Inhalation of coal dust can permanently damage lung tissue.   Children, people with chronic illnesses and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

Toxic coal ash and sludge placed in unlined ponds - At the Lake of Egypt plant near Marion, this includes six ponds, one unlined landfill.   Slow seepage of the ash's metals from these unlined ponds has poisoned water supplies, damaged ecosystems and jeopardized citizens' health.

Communities turned into a strip-mined wasteland - Eagle Creek is an example of how mining companies have destroyed not just homes, forests and streams, but actual communities - some with histories dating back to the mid 1880's.  Dynamite is used to remove overburden to access coal.

Citations and fines that highlight hazardous working conditions for miners. - According to Sourcewatch, the Galatia mining complex in Saline County, Illinois incurred over 2,700 citations and $2.4 million in proposed fines since 2005.  This is the largest underground mine in the Midwest and one of the largest in the country.

It's time for our state to stop subsidizing coal, and transition to clean, safe, renewable sources of energy. Join our campaign and help our elected officials understand the REAL costs of coal, adopt a coal severance tax, and move to jobs-creating renewable energy.  

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