The Real Cost of Coal
Where does our electricity come from?
Data from 2011 (PJM Interconnection, 2012).
Cost of Coal: Climate Change Threatens our Coastlines
Coal is the dominant fuel for electricity production in Delaware and in the United States. Carbon pollution from coal is a main contributor to climate change, which threatens to change life as we know it on earth. We are already witnessing the early effects of climate change: sea level rise and intense storms threaten communities; droughts and floods place our food systems at risk; and an increasingly acidified ocean is less capable of supporting life. As a coastal state with the lowest average elevation in the nation, Delaware is especially vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise. Our coastline has already begun to change from the rising sea.
Cost of Coal: Toxic Emissions, Mercury and Smog
Burning coal is the single largest source of mercury emissions worldwide. Once mercury enters rivers and streams, it contaminates fish and bioaccumulates in the aquatic food chain. Mercury is especially worrisome because it damages the brain and nervous system and leads to developmental problems and learning disabilities. Pollution from coal-fired power plants also creates smog, which can cause chest pain, coughing, and breathing difficulties. Smog can make conditions like bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma worse or even fatal. Switching from coal to solar and wind is an important step in protecting communities and public health.
Cost of Coal: Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
In Appalachia, mining companies blow the tops off mountains to reach a thin seam of coal. They then dump millions of tons of rubble and toxic waste into the streams and valleys below the mining sites. This destructive practice, known as mountaintop-removal mining, has already destroyed an area roughly the size of Delaware, has damaged nearly 2,000 miles of streams, and threatens to devastate 1.4 million acres of mountaintops and forests by 2020. The mining poisons drinking water, destroys beautiful forests and wildlife habitat, increases the risk of flooding and wipes out entire communities.
Cost of Coal: Coal Ash Puts Communities at Risk
Every year, the nation’s coal plants produce 140 million tons of coal ash, the toxic waste that is left over after the coal is burned. All that ash has to go somewhere—so it’s dumped in thousands of open-air pits across the nation. At these waste sites, chemicals like arsenic, lead and selenium, can leak into groundwater and surface water. Coal ash is not subject to federal hazardous waste protections, and many of disposal sites lack adequate safeguards, leaving nearby communities at risk from potential large scale disasters. Delaware’s largest coal ash pile, at the Indian River Power Plant in Millsboro, is just meters from Delaware’s Inland Bays.
Now for the numbers: Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal
Methane emissions from mines
Public health burden of communities in Appalachia
Fatalities in the public due to coal transport
Emissions of air pollutants from combustion
Lost productivity from mercury emissions
Excess mental retardation cases from mercury emissions
Excess cardiovascular disease from mercury emissions
Climate damage from combustion emissions of CO2 and N20
Climate damages from combustion emissions of black carbon