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Cleaning Up Coal-Fired Power Plants

It’s only been a few months since the chemical company Freedom Industries spilled an estimated 10,000 gallons of a coal chemical into the Elk River, contaminating the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians. Yet, it seems that a handful of Freedom’s executives are already getting a fresh start with a new chemical company that’s strikingly similar to the original.

This piece was originally published in EarthShare’s blog, one of Earthjustice’s partner groups working toward connecting people and workplaces with effective ways to support critical environmental causes. This featured Q&A reveals the answers about our reliance on coal.

Q: Why is coal such a dangerous source of energy?

Tired of breathing dirty air during your daily commute? Just turn on your car vent’s recirculation button, advises researchers from the University of Southern California. Their study found that pushing this little-used button—which typically shows an arrow with a car around it—can cut pollution levels by 80 percent as compared to pollution levels found out on the road.
 

Split view of clear and hazy days in Shenandoah National Park.

Drops of sunscreen-infused sweat sting your eyes as you climb towards the summit; a small price to pay for the panoramic views that lie ahead.

But after finally conquering every switchback, your view of far-stretching vistas is obscured, not by sweat, but by haze created by coal-fired power plants – a polluting problem that afflicts many of America’s 400 national parks.

With some members of Congress doing less to protect the health and welfare of their constituents and more for the interests of industry, it’s easy for us ordinary folks to get disillusioned and throw in the towel. But then we turn towards the faces of our children, neighbors, parents and friends struggling with asthma from industrial pollution and tail pipe emissions. We see the lakes and rivers we swam and fished in as kids decimated and our drinking water supplies poisoned by poorly regulated and inadequately maintained coal ash disposal sites.

A coal export ship.

The use of coal in the U.S. has declined over the past few years, and orders for new plants are being cancelled at an increasing rate, owing to pressure from Earthjustice and others and competition from cheaper natural gas. Meanwhile, President Obama has made increasingly stern pronouncements about moving toward a renewable energy regime.

A power plant located next to a waterway.

Gathered on a grassy knoll outside the Environmental Protection Agency, an unlikely group of advocates came together to support a basic human necessity. These campaigners, representing organizations ranging from the National Hispanic Medical Association to the Catawba Riverkeepers, found a common denominator in the importance of appealing for a strong ELG standard—making a statement that clean water is essential for everyone.

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