Clean coal is a myth created by marketing, advertising and public relations experts to try and convince the US public that the dirtiest source of power in their country is somehow environmentally friendly.
The fact is that coal is actually the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States and has left both air and water across the country irreversibly damaged and polluted.
After multi-million-dollar PR campaigns by the coal industry, many in government have become seduced by the illusion of “carbon-free coal.” The industry wants Americans to believe that coal can be made safe for the environment by capturing and permanently storing the global warming pollution.
This technology, Carbon, Capture and Storage (CCS) is a false hope. Despite tens of billions in public subsidies, it has never been made to work. The idea that the same coal industry that spilled enormous amounts of coal ash sludge last December in Tennessee will be able to permanently store billions of tons of a clear, odorless gas with no leakage is hard to imagine, to say the least. Yet vague promises of CCS are being used to justify building new coal-fired plants. But any new coal-fired power plant will contribute massively to the climate crisis.
Here are some more facts and figures about coal and why it is far from "clean":
"Clean" Coal Increases Rates of Disease
The United States burns more than a billion tons of coal each year – that’s 20 pounds of coal for every person in the country, every day.
According to the American Lung Association, 24,000 people a year die prematurely because of pollution from coal-fired power plants. And every year 38,000 heart attacks, 12,000 hospital admissions and an additional 550,000 asthma attacks result from power plant pollution.
"Clean" Coal Destroys Mountains
Instead of traditional mining, many coal companies now use mountaintop removal to extract coal.
Coal companies are increasingly using this method because it allows for almost complete recovery of coal seams while reducing the number of workers required to a fraction of what conventional methods require.
Mountaintop removal involves clear cutting native hardwood forests, using dynamite to blast away as much as 800-1000 feet of mountaintop, and then dumping the waste into nearby valleys, often burying streams.
"Clean" Coal Kills Jobs
Despite coal industry claims that coal mining creates lots of jobs, the truth is that coal mining employment has been declining for decades, due to increased use of machinery instead of manpower.
In West Virginia alone, coal mining employment has plummeted from 126,000 miners in 1948 (who produced 168 million tons of coal), to just 15,000 miners employed in 2005 (who, with the help of machinery, produced 128 million tons of coal).
Burning "Clean" Coal is Fuel for Global Warming
The U.S. produces about 25 percent of global climate change pollution from burning fossil fuels.
Burning coal contributes 40 percent of U.S. CO2 emissions. Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. According to the United Nations Environment Program, coal emits around 1.7 times as much carbon per unit of energy when burned as does natural gas and 1.25 times as much as oil.
"Clean" Coal Kills Miners
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 12,000 coal miners died from black lung disease between 1992 and 2002.
"Clean" Coal Pollutes Seafood and Freshwater Fish
49 U.S. states have issued fish consumption advisories due to high mercury concentrations in freshwater bodies throughout the country. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of human-generated mercury pollution in the U.S.
"Clean" Coal Kills Freshwater Streams
More than 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried or damaged by mountaintop removal mining. At least 724 miles of streams were completely buried by valley fills from Appalachian mountaintop removal between 1985 and 2001.
400,000 acres of rich and diverse temperate forests have been destroyed during the same time period as a result of mountaintop mining in Appalachia.