Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

Climate & Energy

Economic action to stop global warming

Coal

CoalGreen America’s plan to combat global warming calls for a moratorium on coal.  Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels -- it creates more pollution than oil, natural gas, and gasoline when burned.  If we’re going to get serious about fighting global warming, we need a complete halt to the coal industry. 

 

Our Campaign to Protect Communities from Coal Ash

When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the spring of 2010, even pro-drilling critics could see the terrible effects of oil-drilling on the Gulf of Mexico. The spill was widely reported to be "bigger than Exxon-Mobil," but less widely reported are the multiple coal-ash spills in Appalachia, including TWO since 2000 that have been "bigger than Exxon-Valdez."

Coal ash is a toxic by-product of burning coal, which contains high levels of arsenic, chromium, selenium, and barium. When coal ash ponds spill local waterways become so contaminated as to lose literally all of the aquatic life to the coal-ash poisons. The EPA has recently launched a public comment period on its proposal to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste. (Read our editorial on the subject. And send your message to the EPA from here.)



Coal Basics

  • Coal is a hydrocarbon and a fossil fuel – remains of plant and animal (carbon-based) materials that have been compressed for millions of years that, when burned, release energy.
    • Because coal is a form of trapped carbon, burning it releases the carbon as carbon dioxide (CO2).
    • Because coal takes millions of years to form and humans take only minutes to break it down, it is a non-renewable energy source.
    • Because it takes only minutes to release carbon that has taken millions of years to store, we are upsetting the natural carbon cycle dramatically and flooding the atmosphere with CO2.
  • Coal is extracted from the ground by both underground and surface mining.
  • Coal is the largest single source of fuel for electricity generation in the world.
  • Coal is the most widely distributed fossil fuel, and is mined on all continents except Antarctica.
  • The three of the most affected coal-mining states are Wyoming, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
  • There are four types of burnable coal: lignite, subbituminous, bituminous, and anthracite.  Anthracite is the oldest, cleanest, highest energy coal, with the smallest reserves.  Lignite is the youngest, dirtiest, lowest energy coal, with the largest reserves.
  • There is enough coal left to last about 200 more years at current rates of production.

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