Ushering in the end of coal’s stronghold on U.S. energy
Coal was once king in the United States, accounting for more than 40 percent of our electricity as recently as 2014. The good news is people around the world are moving away from dirty, polluting coal in favor of clean, renewable, affordable energy. Right now, we have the chance to quit coal for good and keep remaining U.S. coal reserves in the ground.
© Paul Langrock / Greenpeace
All around the world, people are mobilizing against coal and making serious progress. Most recently, the Obama administration took a huge step in the right direction by halting all new coal mining leases on public lands and initiating an overhaul of the federal coal leasing program. This move alone will keep billions of tons of coal in the ground.
But there’s certainly more work to be done. Here’s why we need to quit coal for good.
Coal Fuels Global Warming
The impacts of climate change around the world are increasingly clear. If we’re going to make any progress, we urgently need to end our reliance on fossil fuels.
Coal is the single largest contributor to global warming. Currently, one-third of all global carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal. Additionally, scientists are increasingly clear that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to leave 80 percent of global carbon deposits — like coal — in the ground.
Up until very recently, the U.S. government was more than ready to give away our public land to coal companies. Since President Obama took office in 2009, the federal government has sold more than 2.2 billion tons of our coal, unlocking more than 3.9 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. This is the equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 825 million passenger vehicles and more than the 3.7 billion tons that was emitted in the entire European Union in 2012.
Fortunately, recent changes to the federal coal leasing program have put a stop to that for the time being. But there’s still much more we can do to keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground and speed up the transition to clean, renewable energy.
As the Obama administration continues to review the federal coal program, we need to make sure it understands that the right place for fossil fuels is in the ground.
Coal Means Pollution
Let’s call it like it is — coal is really dirty.
There’s simply no way to extract or burn coal without polluting our air and water and threatening human health.
Coal-burning power plants contribute to air and water pollution and create tons of toxic coal ash that ends up in our drinking water. Coal mining, meanwhile, disrupts communities with mountain top removal and strip mines.
Historically, the health effects of burning coal are astounding:
- Pollution from coal is linked to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and respiratory diseases.
- Every year, 36,000 Americans die as a result of air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
- Nearly one in ten children in the United States has asthma.
While significant steps have been taken in recent years to address some of the concerns with coal pollution, burning and extracting coal continues to pose serious threats to our health, our environment and our climate.
Keep Coal in the Ground
The only way to avoid these health impacts and curb climate change is to keep coal where it belongs — in the ground.