Securing Coal Plant Retirements to Reduce Carbon and Other Air Pollution

John Nielsen“Coal-fired generation is at the heart of many of the region’s most serious environmental problems. The faster we transition to renewable energy, the brighter our future.”

– John Nielsen, Clean Energy Program Director

Coal is one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet, and the United States has met half of its electricity demand from this dirty fuel. There are between 500 and 600 coal plants in the country, but there are resources available that are more modern, cleaner and affordable. We can phase out dirty coal with cleaner energy.

Coal-fired Power Plants Emit a Third of U.S. Carbon Pollution, Causing Climate Change

Coal-fired power plants produce roughly twice the carbon pollution as gas-fired plants. Solar, wind and other renewable energy sources produce zero carbon pollution. Climate change increases the likelihood of severe heat waves, fueling larger and longer wildfires, harming wildlife and increasing drought in the West. These changes are likely to amplify if we do not reduce our carbon pollution. We must reduce carbon pollution to address climate change.

Coal Has Serious Health Impacts

Coal mining poses health and safety issues for workers and communities. Underground miners can suffer “black lung” disease from breathing coal dust, with no cure available. Pollution from coal mining also impacts coal mining communities, which have higher rates of kidney disease, emphysema, and high blood pressure. Mountaintop removal coal mining pollutes rivers, streams and groundwater. Rock which is deep underground naturally contains toxic metals; when this rock is exposed and then dumped into water bodies, these metals can seep into streams, kill aquatic life, and contaminate drinking water sources.
Living near the power plants that burn coal to make electricity also causes health problems. Cancer rates are higher in communities near these plants. Coal plants contribute 67 percent of sulfur dioxide (SO2), 23 percent of nitrogen oxides (NOx), and 34 percent of all mercury emissions in the nation. Consequently, these coal plant communities have increased rates of asthma. Children, the elderly, and those with respiratory diseases are most vulnerable to the health risks of burning coal.

Cleaner, Affordable Alternatives to Coal

With increasing performance and decreasing costs, renewable resources like wind and solar are becoming cost-competitive with coal generation. Today the cost of energy from a new wind or solar farm is cheaper than the cost of energy from a new coal-fired power plant. And energy efficiency remains the most cost effective resource of all.

Western Resource Advocates Champions the Transition away from Coal toward a Clean Energy Future

Western Resource Advocates has championed the transition from coal-fired power plants to cleaner energy sources for over 20 years. We work to help states devise plans that reduce their reliance on coal and increase clean energy. We advocate before public utilities commissions. We work to help Western states implement the national Clean Power Plan and devise renewable energy plans to increase their clean energy portfolio.

Clean Energy Program

Taking Coal Offline


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gwen farnsworth

Gwen Farnsworth

Senior Energy Policy Advisor

robert johnston 2019

Robert Johnston

Senior Staff Attorney

steve michel 2019

Steve Michel

Deputy Director, Clean Energy Program

john nielsen 2019

John Nielsen

Clean Energy Program Director

erin overturf 2019

Erin Overturf

Deputy Director, Clean Energy Program