The most significant toxic byproduct of burning coal is coal ash. Coal ash is a blanket term for four residuals: fly ash – fine powdery particles that float up the smokestack and are captured by pollution control devices; bottom ash – heavier materials that descend to the bottom of the furnace; flue gas desulfurization – wet sludge or dry powder formed by chemically combining sulfur gases with a sorbent; boiler sag – crystallized pellets that result when molten slag and water in the furnace come in contact. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), coal ash typically contains heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, selenium, other assorted heavy metals and trace amounts of radionuclides such as uranium. The majority of heavy metals that are present in coal ash are among the most toxic heavy metals listed by the U.S. Department of Health’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Arsenic in particular has been proven to cause cancer. Despite the known danger posed by coal ash waste, little to no government policy exists to regulate the disposal of coal ash. Due to the toxic nature of coal ash waste it continues to be a focus for multiple organizations to research the amount of coal ash being produced and the effect it is having on our air and water. Clean Water Action and Rainforest Action Network have recently published individual research reports on the information they gathered from coal ash research.
RECENT RESEARCH ON THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF COAL ASH
The very first survey of coal ash pollution in Colorado – Coal Ash: Colorado’s Toxic Trash Exposed – was published by Clean Water Action on June 26th 2013. “Clean Water Action’s research found that coal ash disposal is a serious threat to Colorado’s water resources,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action. “Right here in Colorado, about 1.7 million tons of coal ash pollution is produced every year and safeguards are not in place to protect the environment or the public’s health.” Continue reading Clean Coal Is A Dirty Lie→
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is at it again, trying to roll back state renewable energy standards nationwide. The argument behind their model bill, entitled the Electricity Freedom Act, is that renewable energy is simply too expensive. The Skeptical Science blog offers a good short debunking of this claim, based on the cost of electricity in states with aggressive renewable energy goals, and how those costs have changed over the last decade. And this is before any social cost of carbon or other more traditional pollutants is incorporated into the price of fossil fuel based electricity.
States with a larger proportion of renewable electricity generation do not have detectably higher electric rates.
Deploying renewable energy sources has not caused electricity prices to increase in those states any faster than in states which continue to rely on fossil fuels.
Although renewable sources receive larger direct government subsidies per unit of electricity generation, fossil fuels receive larger net subsidies, and have received far higher total historical subsidies.
When including indirect subsidies such as the social cost of carbon via climate change, fossil fuels are far more heavily subsidized than renewable energy.
Therefore, transitioning to renewable energy sources, including with renewable electricity standards, has not caused significant electricity rate increases, and overall will likely save money as compared to continuing to rely on fossil fuels, particularly expensive coal.
In the state of Washington, big project investors including Goldman Sachs, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Berkshire Hathaway are pushing to build the Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal, the largest coal export terminal that will exist in North America. Millions of tons of coal will be extracted, transported, exported, and burned overseas. Power Past Coal created a video that brings to life the effects that the coal transportation will have on communities in the U.S.
EcoWatch’s Coal Export Petition calls attention to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) put out by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) on the Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal. There are many missing environmental factors that have yet to be incorporated, including the impact on the air, land, and water of every town the coal trains will travel through, a quantified impact caused by escaping coal dust, the effects on the natural ecosystem, and many more. Help us protect the earth from the devastating damage on the planet and humans alike by signing the petition today.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has gone through the catalog of America’s coal plants, and found hundreds of mostly small, old, polluting, inefficient generating units that just aren’t worth operating any more, even on a purely economic basis. They looked at several different sets of assumptions, including different natural gas prices going forward, a price on carbon, whether or not the competing natural gas fired generation would need to built new, or whether it existed already with its capital costs paid off, and whether or not the production tax credit for wind ends up being renewed. In all of the scenarios considered, they found substantial coal fired generation that should be shut down on purely economic grounds, above and beyond the 288 generating units that are already slated for retirement in the next few years. They also found that some companies — especially those in traditionally regulated monopoly utility markets in the Southeast — are particularly reluctant to retire uneconomic plants, and suggest this may be because they can effectively pass on their costs to ratepayers, who remain none the wiser.
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