COAL

COAL

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.

CURRENT NEWS

KEY RESOURCES

High Cost of Cheap Coal: The Coal Paradox

10/09/20
On a scorching August day in southwestern Indiana, the giant Gibson generating station is running flat out. Its five 180-foot-high (54.9-meter-high) boilers are gulping 25 tons (22.7 metric tons) of coal each minute, sending thousand-degree…
EIA

Energy and the environment explained: Where greenhouse gases come from

10/09/20
In the United States, most of the emissions of human-caused (anthropogenic) greenhouse gases (GHG) come primarily from burning fossil fuels—coal, natural gas, and petroleum—for energy use. Economic growth (with short-term fluctuations in growth rate) and…
EIA

U.S. renewable energy consumption surpasses coal for the first time in over 130 years

10/09/20
In 2019, U.S. annual energy consumption from renewable sources exceeded coal consumption for the first time since before 1885, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Monthly Energy Review. This outcome mainly reflects the…
EIA

U.S. coal-fired electricity generation in 2019 falls to 42-year low

10/09/20
Output from the U.S. coal-fired generating fleet dropped to 966,000 gigawatthours (GWh) in 2019, the lowest level since 1976. The decline in last year’s coal generation levels was the largest percentage decline in history (16%)…

The historic decline of US coal

10/09/20
The first commercial power plant in the US was Thomas Edison’s coal-fired Pearl Street station in lower Manhattan, which started operating in September 1882. Later that same month, the country’s (and Edison’s) second commercial power…

Raising Awareness of the Health Impacts of Coal Plant Pollution

07/30/20
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…

EndCoal.org Global Coal Plant Tracker

02/21/20
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

02/21/20
Formed deep underground over thousands of years of heat and pressure, coal is a carbon-rich black rock that releases energy when burned. In the United States, roughly 30 percent of all electricity comes from coal:…

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

11/26/19
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

03/04/19
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…

MORE NEWS

Hawaii Gets Its Last Shipment of Coal, Ever

By Molly Taft   07/29/22  
It’s the end of a dirty era in Hawaii. The state’s last-ever coal shipment arrived in Oahu on Wednesday, bound for the last remaining coal-fired power plant, which is due to shut down in September.

State regulators approve Georgia Power’s plans to retire all coal plants by 2028 except for Plant Bowen

By Lulia Gheorghiu   07/22/22  
State regulators unanimously approved Georgia Power’s 2022 Integrated Resources Plan, or IRP, on Thursday, which includes retiring all of its coal plants by 2028, with the exception of two units from Plant Bowen totaling nearly…

In a twist, old coal plants help deliver renewable power. Here’s how.

By Elena Shao   07/15/22  
The sites, once a source of greenhouse gases, have a useful feature: They’re wired to the electricity grid. For new ventures like solar farms, that can save a lot of time and money.

Key nations agree to halt funding for new fossil fuel projects

By Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson   05/27/22  
Top environmental ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial countries agreed Friday to end government financing for international coal-fired power generation and to accelerate the phasing out of unabated coal plants by the year…

This tiny Utah town could shape the West’s energy future

By Sammy Roth   05/19/22  
Five days into our Western energy road trip, photographer Rob Gauthier and I drove late into the night across Utah, following the setting sun as it bathed the red-rock cliffs and snow-starved Wasatch Mountains in…

The Decline of Kentucky’s Coal Industry Has Produced Hundreds of Safety and Environmental Violations at Strip Mines

By James Bruggers   04/18/22  
As the coal industry has collapsed in Kentucky, companies have racked up a rising number of violations at surface mines, and state regulators have failed to bring a record number of them into compliance, internal…

New York shows the challenges of phasing out fossil fuels

By Maxine Joselow   04/12/22  
In December, when the New York City Council voted to ban natural gas use in new buildings, environmentalists in the Big Apple barely stopped to celebrate.

How Joe Manchin Aided Coal, and Earned Millions

By Christopher Flavelle and Julie Tate   03/27/22  
On a hilltop overlooking Paw Paw Creek, 15 miles south of the Pennsylvania border, looms a fortresslike structure with a single smokestack, the only viable business in a dying Appalachian town.

‘Last Gasp for Coal’ Saw Illinois Plants Crank up Emission-Spewing Production Last Year

By Brett Chase and Dan Gearino   03/18/22  
When Illinois lawmakers decided last year to ban most coal-burning power plants by 2030, it was because their harmful effects were well known.

Beijing ‘doubling down on fossil fuels’; china’s co2 emissions increase; coal production growth

03/17/22  
Chinese leaders are “doubling down on fossil fuels” amid “growing” fears of global energy shortages and “rising” concerns of an economic slump, according to Bloomberg. The news came after the Chinese government repeatedly underlined the…

Coal Mining Emits More Super-Polluting Methane Than Venting and Flaring From Gas and Oil Wells, a New Study Finds

By Phil McKenna   03/15/22  
Methane emissions from coal mines worldwide exceed those from the global oil or gas sectors and are significantly higher than prior estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency and the International Energy Agency, a new Global…

Coal helped drive energy-related CO2 emissions to a record high last year, research says

By Anmar Frangoul   03/09/22  
Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose to their highest level in history last year, according to the International Energy Agency, as economies rebounded from the coronavirus pandemic with a heavy reliance on coal. The IEA found…

In Virginia, abandoned coal mines are transformed into solar farms

By Zoeann Murphy   03/03/22  
Empty freight cars line the railroad tracks as far as the eye can see from Tim Jennings’s backyard in Dante — a town of less than 600 residents. “They should open up some more new…

US coal use on the rise, but renewables continue rapid growth

By Karin Kirk   02/25/22  
In the U.S., the amount of coal burned to generate electricity peaked in 2007 and then, between 2007 and 2020, fell by more than 61 percent. But as the effects of Covid-19 continue to re-shape…

DOE will build nation’s first large-scale facility to turn fossil fuel waste into rare materials for tech

By Ella Nilsen   02/14/22  
The vast majority of critical minerals and rare earth elements that help power electric vehicles and wind turbines come from mining operations overseas. But a new initiative spearheaded by the US Department of Energy is…

EPA nears deal with Wyo. over massive coal plant

By Benjamin Storrow   02/07/22  
After months of trading barbs, EPA and Wyoming officials say they’ve had a breakthrough in talks over the future of one of America’s largest coal plants. The reversal comes after a meeting between EPA Administrator…
BBC

The environmental case for buying a coal mine

By Richard Fisher   01/19/22  
One day, the Swedish energy company Vattenfall decided to divest itself from a particularly dirty form of coal extraction in Germany, so it advertised that its mines were for sale. It would get an offer…

How coal holds on in America

By Joshua Partlow   01/17/22  
David Saggau, the chief executive of an energy cooperative, tried to explain the losing economics of running a coal-fired power plant to a North Dakota industry group more than a year ago.

The Biden Administration Takes Action on Toxic Coal Ash Waste

By James Bruggers   01/12/22  
The Biden administration on Tuesday took its first significant move toward corralling lingering and widespread problems with the toxic ash produced by coal-fired power plants, one of the nation’s most prominent long-term environmental health legacies…

Black Farmers Are Rebuilding Agriculture in Coal Country

By Natalie Peart   01/10/22  
While most people associate West Virginia with coal mining, the hills and valleys are also suited for agriculture. And as coal production wanes, farmers are seeing growing opportunities to expand their sector.

Coal and trucks pushed US ‘further off track’ for climate targets in 2021

By Josh Gabbatiss   01/10/22  
US emissions surged by 6.2% last year, boosted by a renewed reliance on coal power amid soaring natural gas prices, according to the Rhodium Group. After falling sharply in 2020 due to the economic impact…

Opinion: West Virginia’s coal miners just made Joe Manchin’s life a lot harder

By Greg Sargent   01/10/22  
For months, Sen. Joe Manchin III has sold his opposition to the Build Back Better proposal as driven uniformly by a brave and hardheaded assessment of the national interest. He has warned that BBB will…

Coal plant explosion should be a wake-up call

By Baltimore Sun Editorial Board   01/03/22  
Late Thursday morning, an explosion in Curtis Bay rattled buildings, broke windows and likely frayed some nerves. A buildup of coal dust at the CSX Coal Plant Building was blamed for the blast, which could…

The world generated more power from coal in 2021 than ever before

By Amy Gunia   12/18/21  
The amount of electricity generated from coal is expected to hit an all-time high this year, as electricity demand outpaces low-carbon supply options, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). That means that the world’s…

Global demand for coal could hit all-time high in 2022

By Jillian Ambrose   12/16/21  
Electricity from coal plants has risen by 9% this year to fuel economic recovery from Covid, says watchdog.

Campaign to shut down New England’s last coal plant is doing ‘what must be done’ for the planet

By Arnie Alpert   11/17/21  
There’s one form of power that’s generated when hot water turns turbines to create electricity. There are other forms of power held by investors, property owners and regulatory agencies.

1 big thing: The long road to phasing down coal

By Ben Geman and Andrew Freedman   11/17/21  
Let's leave to history to see whether the COP26 deal to "phase down" coal instead of "phase out" makes any real-world difference, but what's clear is that any meaningful "phasing" at all is hard, Ben…

Where electric cars could help save coal

By Will Englund   11/09/21  
Disdain for electric cars runs deep in this state. In the Bakken oil fields, which have brought enormous riches to North Dakota, workers fume at them on Facebook discussion groups, calling them “worthless” or worse.…

Why the U.S. Didn’t Join 40 Other Countries in Pledge to End Coal

By Benjamin Storrow   11/08/21  
The Biden administration arrived this month at international climate talks in Scotland with the intent to prove the United States was again ready to lead the fight against global warming.But when more than 40 countries…

What could finally stop new coal plants? Pulling the plug on their insurance.

By Steven Mufson   10/26/21  
The campaign to stop the proliferation of coal plants may come down to a bit of financial engineering: pulling the plug on insurance coverage. More than 30 insurance companies have announced restrictions on underwriting coal…

Coal-fired electricity rebounds in 2021, but resurgence could be short-lived

By Scott Van Voorhis   10/20/21  
Electricity generated by coal-fired plants is expected to rise by 22% in 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a bounce back that comes amid what has been a long and steep decline.
Vox

4 astonishing signs of coal’s declining economic viability

By David Roberts   09/16/21  
In the early 2000s, coal fueled China’s rapid growth. From 2000 to 2013, coal consumption in the country grew at a ludicrous pace of 12 percent a year on average, from 1.36 billion tons annually…

Most plans for new coal plants scrapped since Paris agreement

By Jillian Ambrose   09/14/21  
The global pipeline of new coal power plants has collapsed since the 2015 Paris climate agreement, according to research that suggests the end of the polluting energy source is in sight.

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   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   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   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…
WSJ

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.
AP

Justices deny Wyoming, Montana coal suit against Washington

By Mead Gruver   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

06/15/21  
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   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   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   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   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   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   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   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.