UNDERSTANDING COAL and CARBON and WATER (as U.S. weighs coal regulations and alternatives)

IF COAL = CARBON, how do carbon emissions affect

Air pollution: Burning coal creates smog, soot, acid rain, global warming and toxic air emissions. It is the single biggest air polluter in the U.S. and those airborne particulates fall onto land and into rivers.

Fuel supply: Mining, transporting and storing coal pollutes our land, water and air – and levels our mountains, the headwater sources of our rivers.

Water use: Coal plants consume billions of gallons of cooling water, heating and lowering river levels which then harms wildlife.

Wastes: Ash, sludge, toxic chemicals and wasted heat create environmental problems.

USA: Huntington, West Virginia, storing coal
USA: Huntington, West Virginia, storing coal

A typical coal-powered plant uses only 33-35% of the coal’s heat to produce electricity. The majority of coal’s heat is released into the air or absorbed by the cooling water which is returned to local rivers. Annual waste from a coal plant’s smokestack scrubbers includes an average of 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge. Forty-two percent of U.S. coal combustion waste ponds and landfills are unlined, which makes them permeable.

When the waste toxins – arsenic, mercury, chromium and cadmium – contaminate drinking-water supplies, they can damage vital human organs and nervous systems. Ecosystems are also damaged by the disposal of coal-plant waste, sometimes severely or permanently.

USA: West Virginia, coal plant on Ohio River north of Wheeling
USA: West Virginia, coal plant on Ohio River north of Wheeling


  Although coal power only accounted for 49% of the U.S. electricity production in 2006, it represented 83% of CO2 emissions caused by electricity generation that year. (Wikipedia)

  In 2012, CO2 emissions from electric power were only 39% of all U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions; but coal generated 74% of that 39%, thus coal continues to be a significant polluter.

Jan 2014 Primary Energy Production by Source
measured in quadrillion Btu
(most recent figures from U.S. Energy Information Agency, p. 5)

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USA: Idaho,  Columbia River Basin, Snake River Basin
USA: Idaho, Columbia River Basin, Snake River Basin

We’re all connected downstream

USA:  New Jersey, Mountainville, Guinea Hollow Stream, early spring
USA: New Jersey, Mountainville, Guinea Hollow Stream, early spring

WHAT YOU CAN DO to protect our water resources:
Support the EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers –

It’s critical we all have clean fresh water! The EPA and USACE are proposing a clarification of their rules that protect our water quality by addressing upstream impacts on downstream communities. Ending loopholes in the 1970’s Clean Water Act will stop the free dumping of toxins into small streams and wetlands. This will affect some farmers’ use of pesticides and herbicides; but it will encourage restoration of riverine corridors and wetlands that filter such toxins. In the long-run, a tighter Clean Water Act will benefit us all.

NWNL asks everyone to jump in here!!

— Read the proposal.
— Listen to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on this ruling.
Contact the EPA during its 90-day Comment Period.