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Coal is One of the Dirtiest Fuel Sources in Existence

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From Bruce Nilles, director of Sierra Club's Move Beyond Coal campaign.

Over the past week the coal industry has suffered more serious setbacks. While wishful thinking might lead us to hope that it is some sort of cosmic repercussion for their bad actions over the past years, the hard reality is that government officials, companies and regular people are looking beyond the coal propaganda and realizing that coal is simply not the best option. 

Just yesterday Michigan’s Governor Granholm announced sweeping new energy policies (PDF) that prioritize clean energy before coal. In addition to increasing renewable energy and efficiency for homes and schools, her plan calls for a 45% reduction in the use of fossil fuels by 2020—and all new coal plants in the state will have to go back to the drawing board while officials decide if they are the best option for Michigan.

Michigan is not alone; Georgia legislators have proposed a bill that would put a hold on new coal plant construction in the state, preventing the state from being locked into a dirty energy source before fully evaluating the alternatives. The bill also includes a groundbreaking provision that would prevent coal plants in Georgia from burning coal mined using devastating mountaintop removal techniques.

On Monday the electric cooperative behind the Highwood coal-fired power plant in Montana announced that it was giving up on coal and going with a clean mix of wind and natural gas. 

That decision comes on the heels of the Air Force’s finding that a new liquid coal plant planned for Malmstrom Air Force Base, also in Montana, was “not viable.’ While bad news for the coal industry, this cancellation is great news for the rest of us, as the Air Force has really been the driving force and primary buyer behind many of these liquid coal projects, making them the really only guaranteed market. Without government subsidies, liquid coal would wither away.

From the mine, to the plant, to the sludge impoundment, coal is one of the dirtiest fuel sources out there.  And the simple fact is we don’t need coal.  With a broad range of clean energy alternatives readily available, including wind, solar, and geothermal power, we can keep our lights on, our businesses running, and leave a healthier future for our children.  As clean energy continues to power more homes and create more jobs across America, expect to see more trouble for coal in the months ahead.



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