“Clean” Coal … A Myth!

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 economic interest in coal production and transport, have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to prolong the support for and use of coal. In reality:

  1. Per unit of energy produced, coal is the dirtiest fuel in commercial use today, responsible for 44% of global 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.

  2. Although air quality regulations have resulted in lowered mercury, nitrogen and sulfur emissions relative to the 1970’s, coal is still far from clean.

  3. Technology for capturing and storing carbon emissions is still in the research and development stage, is not in general use now, and will not be in widespread use for perhaps decades, if ever.  

Short Term Profits…Long-Term Problems!

The coal industry would like us to believe that a whole new generation of clean-coal power plants are waiting to be constructed.  The truth is that the most promising technology for reducing carbon emissions, a process called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), remains years away -if ever, from widespread implementation.  

CCS technology has been a “future” solution for many years now, with governments abandoning experimental projects due to cost overruns and lack of progress. Governments like the United States, at the behest of the coal lobby, have pumped billions into CCS technology experiments, including the demonstration FutureGen Project in Illinois, yet it continues to fail as a commercially viable option.  Also:

  • As renewable energy technology prices continue to drop and reach parity with fossil fuels like coal CCS begins to make less and less financial sense.
  • CCS can only work if the captured carbon stays safely in the ground forever.  But, according to a recent study published in the National Academy of Sciences:

Even a small earthquake event in the US has the potential to release stored carbon back into the atmosphere, making “large-scale CCS a risky, and likely unsuccessful, strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Creating the perception that clean coal is real encourages the public to believe that coal is an easy solution to both our energy and climate change crises. At the same time, it invites us to continue to invest in and support those vested in the coal economy; a good deal for coal; a deadly deal for society.

Our current atmospheric CO2 levels exceeded 400 ppm in May of 2013 for the first time in 55 years of measurement—and probably more than 3 million years of Earth history. Scientist have warned us that if we continue to allow atmospheric CO2 levels to increase we risk irreversible and potentially catastrophic effects from a rapidly changing climate.

Continuing our commitment to coal will virtually guarantee that we will not be able to reduce our carbon emissions to safe levels.  Simply put – to stop global climate change we must stop using coal.

What About the Economy?

The Illinois Coal Association and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity perpetuate the myth that Illinois has a robust coal economy. Here are the facts :

  • Coal mining and support activities play a relatively insignificant role in the Illinois economy, representing only 0.17% of private industry economic activity in 2010.
  • In 2012, there were approximately 4,200 jobs in Illinois that were directly related to coal mining. Jobs have dropped dramatically since the turn of the century when mining became more mechanized.  This represents about .06% of the total jobs in Illinois.
  • If you add in the indirect jobs that result from coal mining (related to the goods and services miners and their households use / rely upon), then the total employment increases to 0.19% of the total Illinois jobs.
  • Coal’s contribution to the Illinois state budget?  A net loss of nearly $20,000,000 every year.

Source:  The Impact of Coal on the Illinois State Budget, FY 2011. Downstream Strategies and The Center for Budget and Tax Accountability.  June, 2013.

By contrast, in 2013 early 97,000 Illinoisans work in the burgeoning clean-energy sector, putting the industry among the largest job generators in the state, according a report by the Clean Energy Trust:

  • There were about 20,000 jobs (or 21%) in the renewable energy sector.
  • Most were in energy efficiency, which was responsible for more than 60,000 jobs, or 62%. And the lion’s share of these were in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, and building controls.

Work with us to transition Illinois, one of the largest coal-producing states in the country, from coal to safe, clean and renewable sources of energy.