Coal, a black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, is the most abundant fossil fuel on earth. It takes millions of years to develop and is, like other fossil fuels, created from the remains of ancient organisms.

Utilized, since the cave man, for heating and cooking, it was also used in the Roman Empire to heat public baths and, during the Aztec Empire, as a decorative ornament.

Currently, coal is extracted from the earth either by surface or underground mining. Once extracted, composed mostly of carbon and hydrocarbons, the energy it contains can be released through combustion (burning) either directly (for heating and industrial processes) or to fuel power plants for electricity – close to 90% of U.S. coal consumption is in the electric power sector.

Currently mined in 25 states, the U.S., with one of the world’s largest coal reserves, has (as of July, 2020) 263 operating coal-fired power plants, having retired 288 over the ten previous years.

The first one was in lower Manhattan, which began operation in September, 1882. Later that same month, the country’s second commercial power plant was a hydropower plant in Appleton, Wisconsin. Within three years, coal became the most-used energy source in America, overtaking renewables including hydropower and wood.

By 2019, U.S. coal-fired electricity generation had fallen to a 42-year low with annual energy consumption from clean energy sources exceeding coal consumption for the first time in more than 100 years. This was mainly the result of growth in gas plants and renewable energy.

To add insult to injury — just in the year 2019 over 2018 — the decline was so significant that coal consumption in the United States decreased nearly 15%. Despite its decline it remains, however, the dominant CO2 emissions source related to electricity generation — accounting for 60% of the electric power sector CO2 emissions in 2019.

Coal has always been plentiful and cheap, as fossil fuels go, before gas became cheaper and renewables more available. The reduction of our reliance on coal is fortunate in so far as toxins and greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are concerned. Extraction and burning releases the highest levels of pollutants into the air including sulfur dioxide, another pollutant gas that causes respiratory problems, damages crops, forests, and lakes.

Surface mining also permanently alters the landscape. In mountaintop removal, the landscape itself is obliterated and ecosystems are destroyed. This increases erosion in the area. Streams may be blocked, increasing the chances for flooding. Toxins often leach into groundwater, streams, and aquifers.

Coal is one of the most controversial energy sources in the world. The advantages of coal mining are economically and socially significant. And, yet, mining devastates the environment: air, land, and water. Coal combustion is, by far, the nation’s primary culprit of global warming.



Raising Awareness of the Health Impacts of Coal Plant Pollution

In 2000, 2004 and again in 2010, the Clean Air Task Force issued studies based on a methodology and model created by Abt Associates, U.S EPA’s own health benefits consultant, based on peer-reviewed, published studies… Global Coal Plant Tracker

We are environmental, social justice and health advocates who are concerned about coal’s heavy toll on human health, our natural environment and the planet’s climate.

Coal Power Impacts

A look at how coal affects our air, water, and global warming.

The Coal Industry Was Well Aware of Climate Change Predictions Over 50 Years Ago

A rediscovered journal from the 1960s reveals the coal industry has understood the dangers of human-caused climate change for over 50 years, and may constitute the earliest known evidence of such fateful insider knowledge.

Coal ash contaminates groundwater near most US coal plants: study

More than 90 percent of U.S. coal-fired power plants that are required to monitor groundwater near their coal ash dumps show unsafe levels of toxic metals, according to a study released on Monday by environmental…


5 rules to make sure coal-plant buyouts benefit the public, not the big banks

By Justin Guay   09/07/21  
Whether it's HSBC and the Asian Development Bank building a fund for coal plant closures in Asia, Citi and Trafigura releasing plans for a global coal-mine closure fund, or Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, the world’s largest investor,…

Renewables Are Fast Replacing Coal, Except in Rural America

By Katherine Blunt   08/08/21  
U.S. utilities are moving to replace coal plants with renewable-energy sources, but the shift is happening more slowly at the cooperatives that serve much of rural America. Electric cooperatives sourced 32% of their power from coal…

The Biden Administration Won’t Explain Its Handout To Big Coal

By Chris D'Angelo  Photo: RJ Sangosti via Getty Images   08/03/21  
One week after being sworn in, President Joe Biden signed a sweeping executive order aimed at “tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad.” It included seemingly clear language about ending subsidies for the industry…

Just 5% of power plants are responsible for 73% of electricity emissions

By Adele Peters  Photo: Omar Marques/Getty Images   08/02/21  
Each year, a sprawling coal power plant in Rogowiec, Poland, emits more CO2 than many countries—in 2018, roughly 38 million metric tons. It’s the most polluting power plant in the world. It’s also one of…

​Just 5 Percent of Electric Plants Responsible for 73 percent of Power Sector Emissions

By Don Grant   07/28/21  
Just 5 percent of all power plants globally — all of them coal-fired — are responsible for 73 percent of electricity-sector carbon emissions, according to a new study that calls for cutting emissions from “hyper-polluting” power plants.

U.S. EPA to tighten requirements on toxic waste from coal plants

By Valerie Volcovici and Jan Wolfe  Photo: Brian Snyder , Reuters   07/27/21  
 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday said it will set stricter requirements for how coal-fired power plants dispose of wastewater full of arsenic, lead and mercury, an important step in reversing one of the…

Coal Shows Its Staying Power as Economies Bounce Back

By Sarah Mcfarlane and Katherine Blunt   07/07/21  
Coal use is surging in some of the world’s largest economies as electricity demand rebounds from the pandemic, illustrating the challenges to countries looking to wean themselves off the dirty but reliable fossil fuel.

Justices deny Wyoming, Montana coal suit against Washington

By Mead Gruver  Photo: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File   06/29/21  
The U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday that it won’t allow Wyoming and Montana to sue Washington state for denying a key permit to build a coal export dock that would have sent coal to Asia.…

Half of China-Backed Overseas Coal Projects Shelved

Over half of the Chinese-backed overseas coal-fired power plant projects have been shelved or canceled over the past six years, underscoring the rising forces against coal investments globally.

A power plant in Maryland ditches coal for batteries, a first for the US

By Julian Spector  Photo: Talen Energy   06/14/21  
Coal plants are shutting down across the U.S., but one in Maryland is switching to battery power in what appears to be a nationwide first. If successful, the transition could kick off a trend with…

The true price of coal

By Kim Kelly   06/08/21  
It’s been over two months since 1,100 union coal miners in Brookwood, Alabama, hit the picket line, citing unfair labor practices against Warrior Met Coal. The strike itself has gained more national attention, which has…

G7 nations vow to phase out international financing for coal projects

By Brady Dennis  Photo: Russell Cheyne   05/21/21  
With the United States again pushing for robust climate action, the countries also agreed to adopt emissions-cutting targets that would meet the most ambitious aims of the Paris climate accord.

Richest nations agree to end support for coal production overseas

By Fiona Harvey  Photo: Kemal Jufri/Greenpeace   05/21/21  
The world’s richest nations have agreed to end their financial support for coal development overseas, in a major step towards phasing out the dirtiest fossil fuel. After nearly two days of wrangling at a meeting…

UMWA Seeks Foothold for Coal in the Green Hydrogen Economy

By Tina Casey  Photo by Magnolia   04/27/21  
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) caused quite a stir last week when it issued a detailed statement in support of federal energy policies that create new clean energy jobs. The timing was perfect…

White House targets $38B to aid coal sector transition, but it’s likely not enough, analysts say

By Emma Penrod  Photo: Brian Tucker   04/26/21  
Existing federal programs have up to $38 billion in unspent funds available that could be used to spur job creation in communities impacted by the decline of the coal industry, according to a report released Friday by…

The predictable economic effects of climate change have started to appear

By Philip Bump  Photo by Sergio Flores   04/21/21  
The United Mine Workers of America released a remarkable document on Monday, an articulation of how the country’s largest union representing coal miners understood the future of the industry.

Banks And Investors Are Still Pouring Billions Into Coal Companies

By Laura Paddison  Photo: Bill Estep/Tribune News Service/Getty Images   02/25/21  
New research reveals the scale of the money that continues to flow to the dirtiest fossil fuel, despite the accelerating climate crisis.

Biden’s Climate Day Confronts A Tricky Question: What Should We Do About Mining?

By Alexander C. Kaufman  Photo by Patrick Fallon   01/28/21  
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders that paused new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, directed the government’s international financing entities to phase out funding for fossil fuel projects…

The World’s Long, Messy Breakup With Coal

By Laura Paddison  Photo by Don Farrall   01/27/21  
Coal is in a death spiral — but it's far from clear when the final coal plant will close.

Major Wyoming coal company suffers huge losses, plans to divest from thermal coal

By Camille Erickson  Photo by Cayla Nimmo   11/27/20  
Coal giant Arch Resources, Inc. plans to aggressively shrink thermal coal operations in the Powder River Basin, outlining a shift toward coking coal and steel production in an investor call on Thursday.

Wyoming’s ‘dark money’ coal campaign

By Andrew Graham  Photo by Cayla Nimmo   11/17/20  
At a Sep. 3 press conference, Gov. Mark Gordon introduced a nonprofit that’s been advocating for Wyoming’s coal industry for years: the Energy Policy Network. He announced a new contract with the group in which…

From Appalachia To Wyoming: Youth From Coal Country Discuss The Future After Coal

By Brittany Patterson   10/23/20  
On a recent Saturday, over Zoom, a group of seven high schoolers from Wyoming, eastern Kentucky and West Virginia gazed at an image of a gleaming, pale blue, coal-fired power plant.

Rising water stress risk threatens US coal plants, largely clustered in 5 states

By Taylor Kuykendall   10/22/20  
Many of the nation's coal-fired power plants, often heavy consumers of water resources, are in areas projected to soon face water stress due to climate change.

How Can We Get Rid Of Retiring Coal Plant Costs? Energy Task Force Takes A Look

By Rebecca Thiele  Photo by Alan Mbathi   10/19/20  
“Because Hoosiers have to pay for new infrastructure and quickly-retired infrastructure at the same time. They’re having to bear that burden of transition," he said.

Wyoming’s “dark money” coal campaign

By Andrew Graham  Photo by Michael Cummo   10/12/20  
At a Sep. 3 press conference, Gov. Mark Gordon introduced a nonprofit that’s been advocating for Wyoming’s coal industry for years: the Energy Policy Network. He announced a new contract with the group in which…

Wyo criticizes utility’s plans to replace coal with renewables

By Dustin Bleizeffer  Photo by Andrew Graham   10/09/20  
Wyoming’s largest electrical provider, PacifiCorp, wants to speed up its shift from coal-fired power to renewable energy.  But its plan for achieving that vision lacks proper analysis, transparency and modeling, and doesn’t adequately consider other…

Companies show interest in buying major N.D. coal plant

By Andy Balaskovitz   10/08/20  
Critics in Michigan say a DTE Energy executive compensation mechanism incentivizes the prolonged use of fossil fuel plants while such incentives should be linked to decarbonization.

Ohio ratepayer advocates seek refunds for coal plant subsidies

By Andy Balaskovitz   10/06/20  
CLIMATE: A Minnesota city’s five-year climate action plan calls for swift action with measurable results, a contrast with longer-term plans adopted by many cities.

‘The Coal Industry Is Back,’ Trump Proclaimed. It Wasn’t.

By Eric Lipton   10/05/20  
The demise of coal-fired power plants in Arizona and Kentucky shows how the president, despite promises to restore jobs, failed to counter the forces decimating the industry.

General Electric announces No Coal Goal

By Timberly Ferree   10/05/20  
General Electric recently announced that it plans to stop making coal-fired power plants and instead focus on more renewable sources of power. This exit from the coal business could include site closings, job cuts and…

Expert: Blocked coal merger puts Wyoming at higher risk

By Dustin Bleizeffer   10/02/20  
A Tuesday U.S. District Court ruling increases the likelihood that eventual mine closures in the Powder River Basin will happen under the ownership of smaller, less financially stable operators, putting Wyoming miners and taxpayers at…

McFeely: Report blasts expensive ND project meant to save coal plant

By Mike McFeely   09/28/20  
A new report blasts North Dakota's Project Tundra, calling the proposal to capture carbon dioxide emissions at an aging coal-fired power plant in the state "high risk" and "a step in the wrong direction" while…

The world is switching to renewable energy. What does that mean for coal and gas states?

By Bradley Handler   09/28/20  
These are very challenging times for U.S. fossil fuel-producing states such as Wyoming, Alaska, and North Dakota. The coronavirus economic downturn has reduced energy demand, with uncertain prospects for the extent of its recovery. Meanwhile,…

Coal country envisions paths forward in manufacturing, reclamation and renewables

By Mason Adams and Dustin Bleizeffer   08/18/20  
The blue rubber rafts shriek as they slide down steep metal rails, each guided by a crew that will soon be floating down a 9-mile stretch of river, replete with Class III, IV and V…

How a New York Town Has Shifted From a Coal-Powered Economy

By Yale Climate Connections   07/24/20  
The Huntley coal plant in Tonawanda, New York, was once the area's biggest polluter. But it was also the town's biggest taxpayer. So when the plant was slated to close, the town was concerned about…

Solar firm buying land rights near coal plants with eye toward transmission

By Karen Uhlenhuth  Photo: Steven Baltakatei Sandoval / Wikimedia Commons   07/14/20  
As coal plants retire, they leave behind power lines and grid connections that can be a big asset to renewable developers.

Thousands of coal workers lost jobs. Where will they go?

By Arianna Skibell / Energywire  Photo: Claudine Hellmuth / E&E News (illustration) / Cyndy Sims Parr / Wikipedia; ©b3d_ / Flickr   06/25/20  
As the long-shrinking coal industry hemorrhages jobs, states and local groups are seeking new ways to transition to a lower-carbon economy without leaving coal workers behind.

Murray Energy bankruptcy still casts shadow on coal’s economic viability

By Kathiann M. Kowalski  Photo: Wikimedia Commons   06/15/20  
Latest developments don’t resolve ongoing market problems for coal.

Renewables surpass coal in US energy generation for first time in 130 years

By Oliver Milman  Photo: Susan Montoya Bryan/AP   06/03/20  
‘We are seeing the end of coal,’ says analyst as energy source with biggest impact on climate crisis falls for sixth year in a rowSolar, wind and other renewable sources have toppled coal in energy…

U.S. Consumed More Renewables Than Coal for First Time in 134 Years

By Katherine Blunt   05/28/20  
The U.S. consumed more renewable energy than coal last year for the first time since 1885, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The coal industry was already struggling. Now it’s getting hammered by coronavirus

By Reid Frazier   04/27/20  
Businesses have shuttered to slow the spread of COVID-19, and as a result, electricity use is down. That has hurt coal in particular.

This coal company with ties to the Trump administration just got a $10 million small-business loan

By Dino Grandoni and Juliet Eilperin  Photo: Getty Images/iStock   04/21/20  
A coal company based in Indiana received $10 million from a federal loan program intended to rescue faltering small businesses from the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Weak lungs and small spaces: Coal miners face heightened risk as essential workers during COVID-19

By Connor James   04/10/20  
The latest data from the CDC shows that roughly one in five miners, or 20 percent of all miners, in Central Appalachia have black lung.

Coal exit will benefit health, wealth and nature

By Tim Radford   03/30/20  
Human economies still depend on hydrocarbon fuels. But there are ways to achieve a coal exit, cut emissions and protect health. The post Coal exit will benefit health, wealth and nature appeared first on Climate…

4 astonishing signs of coal’s declining economic viability

By David Roberts   03/14/20  
Going ... going ... | Shutterstock Coal is now a loser around the world. There has been no more dramatic story in the world of energy over the last 20 years than the rise and…

Coal plants increasingly operate as cyclical, load-following power, leading to inefficiencies, costs: NARUC

By Catherine Morehouse  Photo: Rachel Cernansky   01/29/20  
Coal plants are increasingly operating as cyclical or load-following generation units, as the power market becomes more saturated with intermittent resources, according to a Jan. 24 whitepaper from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).

Indiana Bill Would Make it Harder to Close Coal Plants

By Dan Gearino  Photo: Universal Images Group/Getty Images   01/29/20  
If the bill passes, Indiana would become the third in the U.S. to pass a law aimed at combating market forces that make renewables and natural gas cheaper than coal.

Five states raise alarms about EPA coal-fired power plant waste disposal proposal

By Rachel Frazin  Photo by Getty Images   01/22/20  
Attorneys general from five states have raised objections to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rollback of Obama-era regulations that stipulate how coal-fired power plants dispose of waste containing arsenic, lead and mercury.