There is no such thing as “clean coal,” environmentalists insist. Burning coal to generate electricity emits soot particles that cause respiratory problems, lung cancer and heart disease, killing 24,000 Americans annually.
It’s the kind of claim that eco-activist Bruce Hamilton says “builds the Sierra Club,” by generating cash and lobbying clout for his and similar groups.
It’s also disingenuous, unethical and harmful.
Since 1970, unhealthy power plant pollutants have been reduced by almost 95% per unit of energy produced. Particulate emissions (soot) decreased 90% below 1970 levels, even as coal use tripled, and new technologies and regulations will nearly eliminate most coal-related pollution by 2020, notes air quality expert Joel Schwartz.
Moreover, the vast bulk of modern power plant particulates are ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate. “Neither substance is harmful, even at levels tens of times greater than are ever found in the air Americans breathe,” Schwartz says.
The alleged death toll is based on speculative links between pollution and disease, and unwarranted extrapolations from responsible estimates to levels that grab headlines and prompt contributions.
Coal helps keep American homes, businesses, factories, airports, schools and hospitals humming, and provides myriad benefits that never get mentioned by anti-coal factions. Even if we accept these groups’ assertions as fact, the benefits of coal should be considered in any policy debate – just as we acknowledge (and strive to reduce) motor vehicle deaths, but recognize the value of transporting people, products and produce.
Coal generates half of all US electricity, and 60-98% in twenty-two states, according to the Energy Information Administration. Modern, state-of-the-art, low-pollution coal-fired generators have replaced both antiquated power plants and monstrous industrial furnaces that were the backbone of our nation’s steel-making and industrial might just two generations ago. They improve and save millions of lives.
Imposing excessive new regulations, or closing coal-fired power plants, would produce few health or environmental benefits. But it would exact huge costs on society – and bring factories, offices and economies to a screeching halt in states that are 80-98% dependent on coal: Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.
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