There’s No Such Thing as Clean Coal

The costs of coal are rising as the American public insists on cleaning up the mess and ending the causes of global warming.  Burning coal for electricity is dirty dirty dirty from the cradle to the grave.   That includes coal ash waste which will be the subject of Ms. Flavia’s live blogging  (see her Tweets over there on the leftside  of the Texas Green Report all day today from Sierra Club’s rally at the Dallas EPA hearing where our new Executive Director Michael Brune will attend an 11:00 am press conference at the Hyatt Regency where the hearings are being held.  The public is invited.

On this early morning post from Austin, I’m refuting the notion of clean coal after yesterday’s DOE announcement.  Remember.  That’s not free money, folks.   We’ll pay in hospital bills, early death funeral charges, and superfund site cleanups.  That’s not free money.  Its dumb money.

Coal mining is dirty, dangerous, and scars the landscape

Every kind of coal mining scars the landscape.  Mountain-top removal is the worst case example.  In Texas, we get our coal from the Powder River Country of Wyoming where the landscape is also scarred.    In Texas, we also mine lignite a form of coal found in east Texas which is the dirty dirty dirtiest form of coal fuel to burn.  Its like wet shotgun pellets and harder to scrub in the burning process.  

Dirty, deadly Diesel Train Pollution

We ship coal on dirty dirty dirty diesel trains all the way across several state lines in a hundred train cars full of coal per coal plant per day. That’s terribly energy inefficient!  All along the way there’s dirty deadly diesel pollution and the coal itself casts off heavy metal pollution. 

Emissions from burning Coal for electricity

When we burn coal at our 20 existing coal plants in Texas, they emit hundred of thousands of tons of pollution into our air every single day.  Its like we’re in a huge gas chamber and that’s no joke.  The nitrogen oxide from coal plants causes ground level ozone smog which causes respiratory disease, heart disease, and early mortality.  Coal plants also pump sulfur dioxide, pariculate matter, mercury, and carbon dioxide into our air.  That’s nasty stuff.  Carbon dioxide is the principal global warming gas and coal plants are the major industrial source of that stuff.  Texas is number one in the nation for both carbon dioxide and mercury.  Let’s talk about mercury.  Mercury is a dirty dirty dirty neurotoxin that affects the brains of fetuses in development and young children when its ingested by the mom or kids eating fish from Texas recreational lakes where a lot of good Texans fish and a lot of mercury from coal plants fall.  Mercury ingestion causes developmental delays and other brain disorders. 

Prolonging an unhealthy Addiction

 So called ‘clean’ coal technology would not clean up many of these pollutants but rather claims to sequester the carbon dioxide.  Sequestration of gases underground, while its been used in the oil and gas industry is not proven effective or safe.  Jeff Goodell who wrote Big Coal was soft on carbon sequestration in his book and has since realized that it is not safe or proven effective. 

Coal Ash Waste

Finally, there’s the coal ash waste that, in Texas is stored in waste ash ponds near the coal plants, dumped in the abandoned parts of lignite mines — unlined pits where it leeches especially with heavy rains like we’re experiencing in Texas this week right down down down into the water table to comingle with the stuff people drink from their water wells.  Its full of arsenic and the only safe level of arsenic in drinking water is zero. 

Clean energy future is now — Get with it Texas!

So, from the cradle to the grave of its industsrial cycle, there is no such thing as clean coal and to celebrate putting money into it is like celebrating buying a dying alcoholic a 12 pack a day.  We don’t need new coal and we need to phase out existing coal over the next twenty years.  Don’t think we can do it?  Germany is currently building more solar power in one month than we are in a year.  And look at their skies!  We have far more powerful solar resource and we should be smart and harness the power of the sun for a truly clean energy future.

I want to wish all the people well who are traveling in the rain today to attend the EPA’s coal ash hearing in Dallas.  Tell it like it really is.

Donna Hoffman, Communication Coordinator, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club


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