Thomas Cmar, Staff Attorney, Coal Program: "The rules were essentially establishing a standard that was many years overdue, and I think the industry has quickly adopted it because they've recognized that [failure to address the coal ponds] is a practice that needs to end. This is a significant liability for these plants."
Coal ProgramWorking state-by-state and plant-by-plant to ensure that coal plants comply with the new rules we secure.Robert S. Donovan / CC BY-NC 2.0
Coal ProgramLitigating in public utility commissions and at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to prevent the industry from shifting the costs of uneconomic coal plants onto utility customers.Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
Coal ProgramSecuring and strengthening federal air, water, and waste standards to rein in pollution from the coal fleet.The Little Blue Run coal ash dam. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)
Coal ProgramSecuring and strengthening federal air, water, and waste standards to rein in pollution from the coal fleet.Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
Earthjustice is at the center of the essential fight to transform our country’s energy sector into one that is clean, renewable, and modern. And a core part of that fight is our work to end our nation’s reliance on dirty, expensive, and outdated coal-fired power plants.
The coal sector is the biggest polluter in the country. Coal plants are the biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. They emit more sulfur dioxide, mercury, and other harmful air pollutants than any other category of polluter. And the coal sector is the largest source of waste and of toxic water pollution. And that is because it has been allowed to be.
For decades, the coal industry has manage to avoid cleaning up its mess by hiring well-paid lobbyists and lawyers to create and exploit loopholes in our nation’s environmental laws. Such efforts have allowed coal power to appear artificially “cheap,” while the public has been forced to absorb the enormous costs of running power plants on the "cheap."
Earthjustice is changing this dynamic. Through litigation, advocacy, and collaboration with our partners, over the past few years we've achieved:
- First-ever limits on air toxics that are emitted from coal-fired power plants;
- First-ever limits on the discharges of toxic wastewater from coal plants;
- First-ever standards governing toxic coal ash that is dumped, usually in big, unlined pits, often near water;
- First-ever air pollution limits to address haze pollution from coal plants.
But just as coal is not actually cheap, it can never be clean. And that is why Earthjustice’s Coal Program is fighting to end our country’s reliance on coal and, working with our Clean Energy Program, achieve a just transition to a society powered by wind, solar, and other renewable resources. We are succeeding in this effort through a broad program of litigation and administrative advocacy that focuses in three primary areas:
1. Securing and strengthening federal air, water, and waste standards to rein in pollution from the coal fleet. These limits not only protect the public and the environment but also change the flawed economics that historically have made coal artificially cheap. The result has been not only a shift away from the construction of new coal power plants, but also decisions to retire rather than spend money retrofitting aging plants that lack modern pollution controls.
2. Working state-by-state and plant-by-plant to ensure that coal plants comply with the new rules we secure. If coal-fired power plants are required to come into compliance with state-of-the-art pollution control standards, they will no longer enjoy an unfair economic advantage over sources of energy that are genuinely clean. But without pressure from lawyers and advocates, state and federal regulators will far too often fail to ensure that the promise of stringent environmental laws are realized in practice.
3. Litigating in public utility commissions and at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to prevent the industry from shifting the costs of uneconomic coal plants onto utility customers. These commissions determine how utilities make their money, and how much money they make. And they can decide whether to allow a utility to charge its customers hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars to retrofit its aging coal plants, or to tell the utility to come up with a better plan. We engage at the commissions on behalf of groups and ordinary customers to make the economic and legal case that it is not just and reasonable to require customers to pay to retrofit aging coal plants when cleaner energy resources are better for customers’ wallets and lungs. And we challenge efforts by utilities to force customers to bail out coal plants and the shareholders that profit from them.
When the Coal Program was formed in 2008, we were in the middle of a wave of more than 150 proposed new coal plants. The vast majority of those proposals were defeated.
Now we are working to retire the existing coal fleet, which dates back to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. With approximately 230 coal plants to date retired or scheduled to retire, we are winning. But with 243 gigawatts of coal capacity still operating, and more than 1,400 coal ash ponds and dumps littering our nation, the fight continues. Learn about some of the Coal Program's current and past legal cases.
Read about a few of the Coal Program's significant advances:
- EPA Finalizes Regional Haze Plan For Texas That Will Reduce SO2 Emissions By 230,000 Tons Per Year
- New York PSC Denies Expensive Cayuga Power Repowering Application
- Court Strikes Down Approval to Spend $90 Million on Outdated Indiana Coal Plants
- New EPA Rule Brings Power Plant Water Toxic Standards into the 21st Century
- Court Overturns Approval of Weak Haze Pollution Plan for Pennsylvania
- Cleaner Energy is Coming to Missouri as Utility Announces Coal Plant Retirements
- Defeat of the Proposed $960 Million Retrofit of the Big Sandy 2 Coal Plant in Kentucky
Each year, Earthjustice achieves more than fifty victories for the environment and our health. See more recent victories.
Contact Coal Program
1617 JFK Blvd., Ste. 1130
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Abigail Dillen VP of Litigation, Climate and Energy
Location: San Francisco
Shannon Fisk Managing Attorney, Coal Program
Flora Champenois Litigation Assistant
Thomas Cmar Staff Attorney
Lisa Evans Sr. Administrative Counsel
Matthew Gerhart Sr. Associate Attorney
Benjamin Locke Associate Attorney
Marie Logan Legal Fellow
Location: San Francisco
Charles McPhedran Staff Attorney
Lisa Perfetto Sr. Associate Attorney
Location: New York
Michael Soules Staff Attorney
Location: Washington, D.C.
Patricia Vesper Office Manager
Mary Whittle Staff Attorney