Hidden Costs

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.  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.

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