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.

What is Coal - More Science on the Learning Videos Channel

CURRENT NEWS

EPA Formally Denies Alabama’s Plan for Coal Ash Waste – Inside Climate News

By Lee Hedgepeth 05/23/24
The Environmental Protection Agency has formally denied Alabama’s plan to allow Alabama Power and other utilities to continue storing toxic coal ash in unlined pits at sites across the state.
Read more

The U.S. just took its biggest step yet to end coal mining

By Maxine Joselow 05/16/24
In one of its biggest steps yet to keep fossil fuels in the ground, the Biden administration announced Thursday that it will end new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin, which produces nearly half…
Read more

US Republican attorneys general sue to stop EPA’s carbon rule

By Clark Mindock 05/10/24
Republican attorneys general from 27 U.S. states and industry trade groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, seeking to block a landmark rule requiring sweeping reductions in carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants…
Read more

Seven Major Nations Agree to Phase Out Coal by 2035, Though Vague Language Leaves Wiggle Room

By Christian Thorsberg 05/02/24
After several years of failed talks and inconclusive meetings, ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries—the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan—have agreed on a flexible plan to phase out…
Read more

Can Biden Ditch Coal Without Killing Coal Country?

By Emily Pontecorvo 04/26/24
There’s no question that coal is on its way out in the U.S. In 2001, coal-fired power plants generated about 50% of U.S. electricity. Last year, they were down to about 15%.
Read more

New rules will slash air, water and climate pollution from U.S. power plants

By Maxine Joselow 04/25/24
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday finalized an ambitious set of rules aimed at slashing air pollution, water pollution and planet-warming emissions spewing from the nation’s power plants.
Read more

E.P.A. Severely Limits Pollution From Coal-Burning Power Plants

By Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport 04/25/24
The Biden administration on Thursday placed the final cornerstone of its plan to tackle climate change: a regulation that would force the nation’s coal-fired power plants to virtually eliminate the planet-warming pollution that they release…
Read more

Coal Train Pollution Increases Health Risks and Disparities

By Kat Kerlin 04/18/24
Trains carrying loads of coal bring with them higher rates of asthma, heart disease, hospitalization and death for residents living nearest the rail lines, according to a new study from the University of California, Davis.
Read more

Red state coal towns still power the West Coast. We can’t just let them die

By Sammy Roth 04/16/24
In the early morning light, it’s easy to mistake the towering gray mounds for an odd-looking mountain range — pale and dull and devoid of life, some pine trees and shrublands in the foreground with…
Read more

China responsible for 95% of new coal power construction in 2023, report says

By Molly Lempriere 04/11/24
China accounted for 95% of the world’s new coal power construction activity in 2023, according to the latest annual report from Global Energy Monitor (GEM). Construction began on 70 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity in…
Read more

The Coal Was Destined for India. Now It’s Polluting the Air in Baltimore

By Matthew Zeitlin 04/01/24
For those living near the Port of Baltimore, the transportation and storage of coal on its way from mines in the Appalachian Mountains to far-flung foreign kilns is “a mundane but ever-present imposition,” Chloe Ahmann,…
Read more

Port of Baltimore closure shuts down No. 2 US coal export hub

By Zack Budryk 03/28/24
The closure of the Port of Baltimore due to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge could have major implications for coal exports, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Read more

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…

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…

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…

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

New England’s last coal plants will close by 2028

By Mara Hoplamazian   03/27/24  
Merrimack Station, which is New England’s last running coal plant, will stop operating by 2028. Granite Shore Power announced the closure of the Bow, N.H. plant as part of a settlement agreement signed Wednesday, resolving…
Read more

A ‘Gassy’ Alabama Coal Mine Was Expanding Under a Family’s Home. After an Explosion, Two Were Left Critically Injured

By Lee Hedgepeth and James Bruggers   03/15/24  
He’d said he thought his home would explode. He was right. W.M. Griffice, 78, had told his granddaughter, Kenzie, in the days leading up to March 8 that he felt like his house was going…
Read more

USA: The cost of transporting coal to the electric power sector increased in 2022

01/31/24  
We released new data on the electric power sector’s coal transportation costs. The release incorporates final data for 2022 from Form EIA-923, which we collect from electric power plant owners and operators. The data release…
Read more

A huge battery has replaced Hawaii’s last coal plant

By Julian Spector   01/10/24  
Hawaii shut down its last coal plant on September 1, 2022, eliminating 180 megawatts of fossil-fueled baseload power from the grid on Oahu — a crucial step in the state’s first-in-the-nation commitment to cease burning…
Read more

Coal’s Peak Is Here. But Demise of Dirtiest Fuel Will Be Slow

By Will Wade   12/15/23  
Global efforts to boost clean energy and rein in carbon emissions have had a clear impact on coal: consumption of the dirtiest fossil fuel is expected to peak this year. Total consumption of coal will…
Read more

Deaths From Coal Pollution Have Dropped, but Emissions May be Twice as Deadly

By Cara Buckley   11/23/23  
Coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, is far more harmful to human health than previously thought, according to a new report, which found that coal emissions are associated with double the mortality risk compared with…
Read more

Pollution from coal power plants contributes to far more deaths than scientists realized, study shows

By Lucas Henneman   11/23/23  
Air pollution particles from coal-fired power plants are more harmful to human health than many experts realized, and it’s more than twice as likely to contribute to premature deaths as air pollution particles from other…
Read more

Dirtiest Fuel Group Adds ‘Sustainable’ to Name in Rebranding Bid

By Sheryl Lee   11/22/23  
As the world moves toward greener energy sources, an industry group for the dirtiest fossil fuel is trying to clean up its image — by adding “sustainable” to its name.
Read more

Displaced Miners Find Work in Renewable Energy Boom

By Benjy Sachs   10/30/23  
Dale Davis, a retired coal miner in Cadiz, Ohio, left the profession because of a lack of job security. Laid off four times in the course of more than three decades in mining, Davis has…
Read more

One million coal jobs face the axe globally by 2050

By Reuters   10/10/23  
Hundreds of labour-intensive mines are expected to close in the coming decades as they reach the end of their lifespans and countries replace coal with cleaner low-carbon energy sources.
Read more

This state is doing something wildly creative with its old coal power plants: ‘A once-in-a-generation opportunity’

By Laurelle Stelle   09/29/23  
Several coal-based power plants in Michigan are scheduled to close in the next few years, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center knows what to do with them.
Read more

Using A.I. to Track Air Pollution From Open-Top Coal Trains

By Emma Foehringer Merchant   09/05/23  
In a sloping backyard in Vallejo, California, Nicholas Spada adjusted a piece of equipment that looked like a cross between a tripod, a briefcase and a weather vane. The sleek machine, now positioned near a…
Read more

Why It’s Important to Phase Out Coal

08/18/23  
Sierra Club’s Senior Director for Energy Campaigns, Holly Bender, answers a few pressing questions on the effects of coal, and a few practical ways people can help the clean energy transition – from engaging local…
Read more

A green future for New Mexico’s last coal plant?

By Arianna Skibell   08/18/23  
A tech startup has hatched a plan to save New Mexico’s last coal plant. The Four Corners power plant, located in the Navajo Nation roughly 200 miles northwest of Santa Fe, is slated to retire…
Read more

ER visits for heart problems plummeted after Pittsburgh coal processor shut down

By Kristina Marusic   08/07/23  
The closure of one of Pittsburgh’s largest coal-processing plants in 2016 led to a lasting reduction in hazardous air pollution and a decrease in heart-related hospital visits, according to a new study.
Read more

DTE to retire coal plants by 2032, invest $11 billion in clean energy push

07/12/23  
Utility firm DTE Energy (DTE.N) said on Wednesday that it plans to retire its coal plants in less than a decade and invest $11 billion over the next 10 years toward clean energy transition. The…
Read more

Which Countries Are Most Reliant on Coal?

By Bruno Venditti   07/11/23  
Global energy policies and discussions in recent years have been focused on the importance of decarbonizing the energy system in the transition to net zero.
Read more

Carbon Capture Faces a Major Test in North Dakota

By Dan Gearino   07/06/23  
Energy companies have talked for years about how carbon capture technology will preserve their ability to burn coal and natural gas in a world that needs to drastically cut carbon emissions.
Read more

DOJ sues coal firms owned by Jim Justice’s family

By Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk   05/31/23  
The Justice Department on Wednesday announced a civil action against coal mines owned by the son of 2024 West Virginia Senate candidate Gov. Jim Justice (R).
Read more

New green energy surges past coal in China

By Xuyang Dong   05/24/23  
In the global race to decarbonize and meet growing energy demand, China is setting the pace for solar, wind and EVs. Renewable energy is now leading China’s newly added power capacity for the first time,…
Read more

Biden seeks to tighten regulation of toxic power plant coal waste dumps

By Timothy Puko   05/17/23  
Scores of power plant coal waste landfills, previously exempted from EPA oversight, would be regulated under a proposed rule
Read more

The U.S. is taking a giant step toward meeting its climate goal

By Timothy Puko   05/11/23  
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a proposal for the tightest limits ever on power plants’ planet-warming pollution, a policy it must enact to meet President Biden’s pledge to halve U.S. emissions by 2030…
Read more

Biden’s big bet to take on coal power

By Alex Guillen and Zack Colman   04/26/23  
The upcoming rule from the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to depend on rarely used technology for capturing power plants’ greenhouse gas pollution. It will have to survive the conservative Supreme Court that hobbled the…
Read more

G7 vows more effort on renewables but sets no coal phaseout deadline

By Eddy Wax   04/16/23  
The Group of Seven richest countries set higher 2030 targets for generating renewable energy, amid an energy crisis provoked by Russia's war on Ukraine, but they set no deadline to phase out coal-fired power plants.
Read more

Earth Could Warm 3 Degrees if Nations Keep Building Coal Plants, New Research Warns

By Kristoffer Tigue   04/07/23  
Earth is on track to significantly overshoot a critical global climate target, largely because not enough coal-fired power plants are being retired, researchers warned in two new reports. Some nations are even planning new coal…
Read more

EPA clamps down on mercury from coal power plants

By Timothy Puko   04/05/23  
Biden administration officials are ramping up regulations on coal, seeking stronger limits on mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants as part of a wider attempt to crackdown on pollution and greenhouse gas…
Read more

U.S. on track to close half of coal capacity by 2026

By Seth Feaster   04/03/23  
The United States is rapidly approaching a milestone in the electricity sector’s energy transition: By the end of 2026, it will have closed half of its coal generation capacity, which peaked in 2011. This is…
Read more

Why Kentucky Is Dead Last for Wind and Solar Production

By James Bruggers and Dan Gearino   03/31/23  
LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Andy McDonald recalls a decade-old Kentucky legislative hearing on an energy diversification bill with the same sense of frustration that he felt back then, when he testified before a panel of lawmakers who were…
Read more

EPA Proposes ‘Strongest Ever’ Standards for Keeping Coal Plant Pollution Out of U.S. Waterways

By Olivia Rosane   03/09/23  
When wastewater from coal-fired plants is released into wider waterways, it can have serious consequences. Environmental toxins including mercury, arsenic, bromide and chloride can pollute drinking water and aquatic habitats, causing cancer and other ailments…
Read more

More coal plants could shut down under EPA’s new water pollution rule

By Anna Phillips   03/08/23  
The Biden administration moved Wednesday to strengthen a rule limiting millions of gallons of toxic water pollution from coal power plants, a change that could lead some plants to shut down or switch to burning…
Read more

China’s Renewable Energy Capacity Overtakes Coal for First Time

By Zhao Xuan and Ward Zhou   02/15/23  
China's renewable energy generation capacity edged out coal power capacity for the first time last year, with new solar driving the electricity sector’s efforts to reach ambitious national carbon emissions goals even as the removal…
Read more

Judge blocks coal mine expansion sought by Signal Peak

By Amanda Eggert   02/13/23  
Judge found ‘sufficiently serious’ errors in the Interior Department’s environmental review of a 7,100-acre expansion of the Bull Mountains Mine.
Read more

Coal Ash Along the Shores of the Great Lakes Threatens Water Quality as Residents Rally for Change – Inside Climate News

By Grace van Deelen   02/05/23  
Just four miles up the shore from the public beach in Waukegan, Illinois, sits the Waukegan Generating Station, a formerly coal-powered electricity plant. According to Dulce Ortiz, a Waukegan resident, the coal ash—a byproduct of…
Read more

Renewable energy farms outstrip 99% of coal plants economically

By Oliver Milman   01/30/23  
It is cheaper to build solar panels or cluster of wind turbines and connect them to the grid than to keep operating coal plants.
Read more

New Wind and Solar Are Cheaper Than the Costs to Operate All But One Coal-Fired Power Plant in the United States

By Dan Gearino   01/30/23  
A coal-fired plant near Gillette, Wyoming stands alone in the nation on one measure of economic viability—a positive distinction for that plant, but a damning one for coal-fired electricity in general. Dry Fork Station, with…
Read more

The Coal Cost Crossover 3.0

01/28/23  
The cost of running existing coal power plants in the United States continues rising while new wind and solar costs keep falling. Our first Coal Cost Crossover report (2019) found 62 percent of U.S. coal…
Read more

How political will often favors a coal billionaire and his dirty fossil fuel

By Gerry Shih and Others   12/09/22  
The tale of Gautam Adani's giant power plant reveals how political will in Modi's India bends in favor of the dirty fuel....
Read more

Coal was the largest source of electricity generation for 15 states in 2021

12/07/22  
In 15 U.S. states last year, coal was used to generate electricity more than any other energy source. Twenty years earlier, in 2001, coal was the largest source of electricity generation in 32 states. The…
Read more

Carbon Removal Is Coming to Fossil Fuel Country. Can It Bring Jobs and Climate Action? – Inside Climate News

By Nicholas Kusnetz   12/04/22  
ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo.—In early fall, residents of this desolate corner of southwestern Wyoming opened their mailboxes to find a glossy flyer. On the front, a truck barreled down a four-lane desert highway with a solar…
Read more

Soaring West Virginia Electricity Prices Trigger Standoff Over the State’s Devotion to Coal Power

By Marianne Lavelle   11/20/22  
West Virginia regulators accuse American Electric Power of driving up costs with skimpy use of its coal plants. Others say the high costs of those aging plants are a growing burden to citizens in one…
Read more

Over 130 Power Plants That Have Spawned Leaking Toxic Coal Ash Ponds and Landfills Don’t Think Cleanup Is Necessary

By James Bruggers   11/03/22  
EPA coal ash regulations issued in 2015 allow polluting utilities to self-regulate. And a giant loophole exempts coal ash piles that stopped receiving coal plant waste before that year.
Read more

Coal producers legally must restore damaged land, but some are dodging obligations

By A Martinez and Others   10/17/22  
Over the last decade, the coal industry collapsed, leaving the largest producers bankrupt. This, however, turned out to be an opportunity. Coal companies are legally mandated to restore the torn-up land and polluted creeks left…
Read more

The energy crisis has revived the coal market

By Matt Phillips   09/13/22  
Coal prices are soaring as the global energy crisis forces power providers worldwide to boost usage of the carbon-laden mineral. Why it matters: A renewed embrace of coal represents a turnabout from the previous global…
Read more

Hawaii Closes Its Last Coal-Fired Power Plant

By Elena Shao   09/02/22  
Hawaii shuttered its last remaining coal-fired power station on Thursday, a major milestone in the state’s ambitious effort to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. The station, the AES Hawaii Power Plant near…
Read more

Inflation Reduction Act Benefits: Billions In Just Transition Funding For Coal Communities

By Michael O' Boyle   08/24/22  
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is the most significant climate legislation in United States history. Energy Innovation Policy and Technology LLC® modeling finds the IRA’s $370 billion in climate and clean energy investments could cut…
Read more

Federal court cites human health, climate costs in rejecting massive Wyoming, Montana coal mining plan

08/04/22  
A federal judge late yesterday struck down two U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) resource management plans that failed to address the public health consequences of allowing massive amounts of coal, oil, and gas production…
Read more

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.
Read more

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…
Read more

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.
Read more