Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 17, 2017

Earth Concerns News

How Clean Is Coal? by Sister Debbie Timmis, CSJ

This month's article from the Home/Land Committee is not the most upbeat topic, but I hope to shed some light on the ever-growing myth that there is something "clean" about coal.

 Coal is responsible for nearly half of our energy in the United States each year. However, "coal has issues. Each lump may contain large amounts of sooty particulates, sulfur and nitrogen compounds (which cause acid rain), and traces of mercury and other toxic metals. Although coal-fired power plants are cleaner than they used to be, they are still bad news for the environment and human health. A recent study concluded that coal emissions contribute to 10,000 premature deaths in the United States each year, and coal is by far the largest single source of greenhouse gases in the United States; so it is no surprise that coal has long been the primary target of proposals to cut air pollution and carbon-dioxide emissions."1 Proponents of clean coal cite steps taken to reduce air pollution and carbon-dioxide emissions by pumping these emissions underground or by attempting to gasify carbon-dioxide emissions.
The previous quote concerns coal-fired power plants, but there are also concerns about the safety of mines, the effects of mining on the environment and the removal of mountaintops, the latest attempt to mine coal quickly and efficiently. As illustrated by this diagram from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the mining of coal affects our environment by removing trees, dumping topsoil and rocks into valley fills, destroying forests, polluting streams and the likelihood of flooding.
The verdict is out. How clean is coal? The risks to our environment are real, and the new attempts to bury carbon dioxide are dangerous and unpredictable. Mountaintop removal leads to the death of mountains and even the death of entire mountain ranges. It seems evident that the value of depending on coal as a clean substitute is outweighed by very real environmental issues. We need to find alternative energy sources, balancing carefully the risks and benefits to our environment.
1Meigs, James. "The Myth of Clean Coal: Analysis." Popular Mechanic. 14 July 2011: n. page. Web 21 Jan. 2012. <>