The Pennsylvania DEP has just come out with a new report that should help put the “clean coal” myth to rest once and for all. According to the report, the subsidence caused by underground coal mining has impacted hundreds of buildings, springs, wells and ponds across ten counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, where 50 mines are active. Taking into consideration the devastation caused by mountaintop coal mining in the nearby Appalachian region, it’s hard to see where the “clean” fits into the picture.
Underground Mines and Surface Damage
The potential for damage is not limited to individual buildings and small local water supplies. The lake behind a dam in Pennsylvania recently had to be drained because the dam was undermined, and an investigation revealed that the surface damage caused by underground coal mines can range much farther than previously thought from the actual mine site. Also in Pennsylvania is the notorious case of Centralia, in which the entire town had to be abandoned due to an underground coal mine fire that started 50 years ago and is still burning with no end in sight, and the Jeddo Mine Tunnel, which has drained polluted water into local streams for more than 100 years.
Whither Clean Coal?
Given the reluctance of local communities to host new coal fired power plants, and the conversion of existing coal plants to renewable biomass, coal is slowly beginning to lose its prominent – and risky – role in our energy landscape. There’s no denying that improvements in coal burning technology are needed as we transition to safer and more sustainable energy sources, but the only true long term improvement would be to stop destroying large chunks of our country’s natural heritage in order to feed coal fired power plants – and especially to stop the apparent insanity of blowing up parts of America to export coal overseas.
Image: Coal by psd on flickr.com.