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.

Lausitz Brown Coal Plants

© Paul Langrock / Greenpeace

All around the world, people are mobilizing against coal and making serious progress. In 2016, 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.

Unfortunately, the climate deniers in Congress have promised to move us backwards. Here’s why we must resist their attacks on climate progress and quit coal for good.

Coal Fuels the Climate Crisis

The impacts of the climate crisis around the world are increasingly clear: 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. Between 2009 and 2015, the federal government sold more than 2.2 billion tons of our coal, unlocking more than 3.9 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. That’s the equivalent to the emissions of more than 825 million cars on the road for a year, 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 for good and speed up the transition to clean, renewable energy.

Coal Causes Pollution

Let’s call it like it is — coal is dirty. There is no way to extract or burn coal without polluting our air, poisoning our water, and threatening human health. And we know this pollution disproportionately endangers Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities.

Coal-burning power plants contribute to air and water pollution. They 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:

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. And to do that, our resistance to politicians’ and corporations’ climate denial and their blatant disregard for environmental justice — must be relentless. 

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