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Coal’s environmental “footprint” is enormous, due to the pollution generated from the mining, burning, and disposal of this fossil fuel. Mountaintop mining fills streambeds with toxic rubble, and 1/3 of all manmade carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from approximately 400 of our nation’s coal-fired power plants. Every year, coal-fired power plants generate an estimated 130 million tons of fly ash and other combustion residues, enough to fill a line of boxcars from the U.S. to Australia. Although ash and scrubber sludge are generally toxic, most of it is dumped in wet lagoons or landfills that are exempt from federal hazardous waste laws, and subject to little oversight or regulation in most states.
Government studies and industry reports show that the unregulated disposal of coal ash and sludges can jeopardize human life, contaminate drinking water with toxic metals, and poison aquatic life. Catastrophic spills, like the one at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston power plant in December of 2008, groundwater contamination, and toxic discharges from coal plants also increase cancer risk in humans in communities where the plants operate.
EIP pushes for the cleanup of old coal plants, which are the biggest source of air pollution and greenhouse gases in the US, and to stop the spread of new conventional coal-fired plants that, according to the US Department of Energy, would increase carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation 14% by 2030. EIP is also challenging the placement of ash in wet ponds and abandoned coal mines, since these practices can leach toxins like arsenic into groundwater and creeks.
In addition, EIP is actively involved in reviewing and challenging permits at coal plants, coal waste storage facilities, and kilns where coal ash is used to make cement. At the state and federal level, EIP advocates for effective, consistent regulation and enforcement at all stages of coal’s life cycle.