Environmental impacts of coal power: fuel supply
About 60% of U.S. coal is stripped from the earth in surface mines; the rest comes from underground mines. Surface coal mining may dramatically alter the landscape. Coal companies throughout Appalachia often remove entire mountain tops to expose the coal below. The wastes are generally dumped in valleys and streams.
In West Virginia, more than 300,000 acres of hardwood forests (half the size of Rhode Island) and 1,000 miles of streams have been destroyed by this practice.
Underground mining is one of the most hazardous of occupations, killing and injuring many in accidents, and causing chronic health problems.
A typical coal plant requires 40 railroad cars to supply 1.4 million tons in a year. That's 14,600 railroad cars a year.
Railroad locomotives, which rely on diesel fuel, emit nearly 1 million tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and 52,000 tons of coarse and small particles in the United States. Coal dust blowing from coal trains contributes particulate matter to the air.
Coal burned by power plants is typically stored onsite in uncovered piles. Dust blown from coal piles irritates the lungs and often settles on nearby houses and yards. Rainfall creates runoff from coal piles. This runoff contains pollutants that can contaminate land and water.
Learn More about Our Coal Use
In-Depth Analysis and Reports
- Ranking the States that Import the Most Coal (2014)
- An Economic Analysis of the U.S. Coal Fleet (2013)
- Ripe for Retirement: The Case for Closing America's Costliest Coal Plants (2012)
- A Risky Proposition: The Financial Hazards of New Investments in Coal Plants (2011)
- Burning Coal, Burning Cash: Ranking the States that Import the Most Coal (2010)
- Coal Power in a Warming World: Investing in Carbon Capture and Storage (2008)