Coal is the dirtiest fuel on earth. From cradle-to-grave, pollution from coal makes people sick and ruins our most cherished places. Whether it’s acid mine drainage killing headwater streams, mountain valleys filled with coal slurry, neighborhoods coated with dust blowing from coal trains, mercury raining from power plant smokestacks, or arsenic bleeding from enormous coal ash waste lagoons into the water supplies that we depend on, we pay dearly for this “cheap” source of energy.
According to World Resource Institute’s Global Coal Risk Assessment, 1,199 new coal-fired plants were being proposed globally as of 2012. New coal plants, mines, and transport facilities are being proposed predominantly in global south countries on the Asian, African, South American, and Australian continents. If these new facilities are built, they will substantially increase carbon pollution beyond the threshold that triggers runaway climate change. They will also consume and pollute millions of litres of fresh water. Waterkeeper Alliance is working to stop construction and financing of these facilities in Senegal, Norway, Bangladesh, Colombia, China, Vietnam, Australia and Indonesia. Shifting investment from coal to renewable energy is important for climate stability, clean water, human health and food security.
U.S. Coal Ash and Coal-Fired Power Plants
Coal-fired power plants—and particularly their coal ash waste—are the largest source of toxic water pollution in the United States. Addressing this issue by targeting these plants with our proven investigative and advocacy methods is a top priority for the Clean and Safe Energy campaign. Over the past several years, Waterkeeper Alliance has established a high level of expertise at finding, collecting, and publicizing illegal water pollution from coal-fired power plants and mines. These efforts are vital to initiating Clean Water Act cases against these polluting companies under the citizen lawsuit provision.
Together with local Waterkeeper organizations and other partners, we documented illegal pollution leaking from coal ash ponds, and filed a total of 14 enforcement actions against coal-fired power plant operators in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Our work in NC recently culminated in criminal charges against Duke Energy and resulted in the largest federal environmental penalty ever, $102 million. We have successfully secured commitments by Duke Energy, Gulf Power, Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas to clean up ash ponds at ten sites. Waterkeeper Alliance seeks to continue building upon our successful coal ash campaign work by securing clean up of every leaking pond in the world.
In every corner of the world, increasingly brutal mining practices degrade or even destroy rivers and streams. Massive mines bury pristine headwater streams, pollute rivers with acid drainage, and displace entire populations as the mines expand.
Coal poisons our air, our water, our communities, and our politicians. Politically powerful coal industry polluters often capture government regulators, creating a culture of lawlessness and reckless destruction of the environment.
Waterkeeper Alliance is addressing this problem head on in Appalachia, where coal companies literally blow the tops off of mountains to get at coal buried in them. In 2010, we caught two of the biggest mountaintop-removal mining companies in Kentucky faking water pollution monitoring reports by simply copying and pasting the same data from one report to the next, concealing rampant illegal pollution discharges. Our work has exposed a massive coverup of rampant water pollution in Kentucky, securing important due process rights for citizens to participate in the oversight of the coal industry. Read more in this New York Times article and this op-ed by President, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
We are also working internationally to stop water pollution from coal mining. In 2013 we expanded our highly successful coal water pollution investigation and documentation model to China, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries.