Fossil Fuels

Coal and the Environment

Industry has found ways to reduce the pollutants emitted by burning coal. The media refers to this as clean coal technology. However, the fact remains that, of all fossil fuels, coal produces the least energy per carbon dioxide molecule emitted to the atmosphere, thus enhancing the greenhouse effect and leading to global climate change.

Impact on Land Impact on Water Impact on Air
Surface mining severely changes the natural landscape. Existing vegetation is eliminated. The soil profile is drastically altered. Animal habitats are destroyed which means local wildlife either die or get displaced. Further, the general topography of the landscape changes and loses aesthetic appeal. The mining of coal has led to denudation of large areas of the countryside in places like West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Coal mines produce an outflow of acidic water called acid mine drainage. Throughout the country, streams and rivers that flow past coal mines become contaminated with acids that make them uninhabitable for fish and other wildlife as well as impossible for people to drink. Acid mine drainage is exacerbated when a mine is abandoned because the mine will flood creating more acidic outflow. Even liquid that drains from coal during storage and transport is also highly acidic and impacts water resources. The nitrogen and sulfur oxides emitted from burning impure coal react with water in the air producing acid rain. Acid rain can negatively impact the surface waters, aquatic animals, soils, forests, and other vegetation. Coal burning releases carbon dioxide into the air which is a main contributor to global warming and climate change. Even worse, coal mining produces methane which is even more potent than carbon dioxide. For these reasons, using coal for energy is troubling for human health and the sustainability of our planet.

DID YOU KNOW? Coal is considered the "dirtiest" of all fossil fuels because there are usually large amounts of sulfur and nitrogen in it. When those elements are burned they make sulfuric acid and nitric acid which cause acid rain and other forms of pollution.

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