Skip to main content  
  Helping the environment one joke at a time, Grinning Planet. Click to go to home page. flying letter; click to go to signup page for free email version
Get GP free
via email !
Eco-Logical cartoon graphic of cube-shaped globe

The Downside of Coal Mining and Coal Power

Some readers may have heard the holiday warning: "Be good, or Santa will leave a lump of coal in your stocking." (The Grinning Planet founder denies that his collection of Star Wars Coal Carvings was converted from years of bad-behavior stocking stuffers.)

Beyond fairy tales, most of us aren't likely to think much about coal. Yet about half of the electricity in the US is generated by burning coal. So isn't it good news that we have more than two centuries' worth of the stuff still in the ground right here in the good ol' non-OPEC, non-foreign U.S. of A.? Sort of.

The bad news regarding coal relates to what we have to do to mine it and, more so, what happens to the air when we burn it. Although laws enacted in the 1970s resulted in improved pollution controls on new power plants, coal is still the dirtiest energy source in the US. When it's burned, coal releases a number of problem pollutants:

  • mercury, a known nervous system toxin;
  • sulfur, which leads to formation of acid rain;
  • nitrogen, which also contributes to acid rain as well as to smog;
  • carbon dioxide, the chief global warming gas.

Coal is the biggest source of mercury contamination in this country's air, and it's the worst offender when it comes to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Emissions-scrubbing technology is available that can clean up 90-95% of the mercury, sulfur and nitrogen emissions, but current law only requires these scrubbers for new plants or for major upgrades in capacity. The latter requirement was recently weakened picture of explosion for coal mining so that more upgrades can be done without triggering the need to use state-of-the-art pollution controls. Hundreds of old coal-fired power plants continue to spew pollution at rates 4-10 times those of modern coal plants—with no plans to go off-line anytime soon.

The other big problem with coal is the way it's mined today. Whereas coal used to be extracted by digging tunnels into the ground, the new approach is to remove the "overburden"—the layer of dirt and rock on top of the coal—take the coal out, and then put the overburden back. Of course there are trees and animals—entire ecosystems—on top of that "dirt." In spite of reclamation laws that were passed in the 1970s to ensure reclamation of strip-mined land, the ecosystem on a reclaimed piece of land is usually not as rich as the original.

Mountain-top removal is a variant of strip mining in which a mountain peak is removed to get to the coal underneath. Since we're talking about a mountain, there isn't really a convenient place to dump the removed dirt, so the common practice is to fill in a nearby valley with it, burying any stream and habitat that's in the valley. This type of strip mining has had a particularly devastating effect on people near the operations, their homes and their communities; on rivers, streams, lakes and people's water supplies; and on the environment in general. A 2003 government study estimated that 724 miles of streams have been buried and over 300,000 acres of forests wiped out in Appalachia by the mountain top mining process. Coal operations do supply many locals with jobs, but as mechanization has increased, the number and quality of the jobs has decreased.

No matter how it's mined, coal is a dirty business for locals, with problems commonly including contamination of water; coal-dust permeating the air, coating everything inside and outside houses; and health problems related to both of these issues. Coal is also a dirty business for everyone else due to the air pollution it causes. So, should we simply abandon coal in favor of cleaner power sources? Is

it true that the Bat Cave was a converted coal mine? If Superman could crush a lump of coal into a diamond, why did he give Lois such cheap gifts? At least one of these questions will be discussed in the next Eco-Logical.

Go to Part 2

Publish date: 16-DEC-2003


Coal deposits can be found on every continent, including Antarctica, and they are found in 38 of the 50 United States.
   — Modern Marvels, "Coal Mining"


Get Grinning Planet free via email

Books for a Better Planet


Coal: A Human History

by Barbara Freese




Coal gets whipped on a lot by green advocates, but coal's part in the evolution of the industrialized world is central and undeniable. And even today, if coal were to abruptly be pulled from the energy equation, the resulting energy-production gap would be sizeable and problematic. In "Coal," Freese recognizes and explores both coal's role in how we arrived in this industrialized world as well as coal's serious environmental problems. She argues for a transition away from this most-polluting of fossil fuels without shortchanging coal's historical importance.

Get reviews or purchase info for this book at for:

See more Books for a Better Planet

Back to joke page  |  More articles, by category



free audio news clips link; image of zombie kid - DON'T BE A MAINSTREAM MEDIA DRONE! - Free MP3 news download at Grinning Planet

Hey, we don't pick
the Google ads!   – GP




"To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson


   > document gif Sign up to get Grinning Planet free by email, or get more info about it Email a link to this page to someone  
   > Issue Number 27
Copyright 2003 © Mark Jeantheau — All rights reserved.   More info

MP3 News Download
Video/Audio News Sites
Environmental News Sites
Investigative Journalism Sites

    - Articles/Resources By Topic
    - Articles By Date

Environmental Quotes
    - Funny Environmental Quotes
    - Peak Oil Quotes

Environmental Cartoons/Jokes
    - Environmental Videos/Animations

Environmental Products
Eco/Nature Greeting Cards

Grinning Planet Farm


Funny Jokes/Cartoons
    - Environmental Cartoons

Funny Animations/Videos
    - Environmental Animations/Videos

Funny Quotes
    - Environmental Funny Quotes


Environmental Books
Global Warming Books
Energy Books
Solar Energy Books
Peak Oil Books
Food-Gardening Books
Media Books


Environmental Movies
Environmental Songs
Environmental Music Videos

Album Reviews
Fun With Lyrics


Home Page
Site Map
About Us
Free Subscriptions
Privacy Policy