The News Hour with Jim Lehrer recently aired a segment that touched on the grave consequences associated with Georgia’s addiction to coal. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s Executive Director, Stephen Smith, is one of the voices profiled that discussed the dangers of our reliance on coal. He states in the video: “Coal is a dirty business – mountaintop removal, combustion practices, and then dealing with the post-combustion waste – cradle to grave it’s a problem.” Every step in the process to turn coal into electricity has harmful effects on Georgians and Americans in general.
• Georgia is one of the largest consumers of coal from mountaintop removal practices. Georgia contributes heavily to the destruction of mountains in the Appalachians and the pollution of the air and drinking water of nearby communities.
• Georgia has no coal reserves. Our economy suffers as we annually send more than $2 billion out of state to bring coal to Georgia.
• Coal plants require millions of gallons of water to run. Coal plants are a major reason Georgians use 3x more water in their electricity compared to household water use. In times of drought, our water resources and our economy suffer because we must give water to coal plants and our farms and drinking water lose out.
• Coal plants are the largest emitters of mercury in Georgia. Mercury pollution contaminates our lakes and rivers, making recreation and eating fish unhealthy. According to the EPA, 1 in 6 babies are born each year with unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies, causing brain damage, low IQ and developmental disorders.
• Burning coal releases soot- and smog-forming pollution (sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) that are leading contributing factors to respiratory diseases like asthma. The Medical Association of Georgia estimates that pollution from power plants annually triggers 26,442 asthma attacks.
• Coal plants also emit a plethora of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) – otherwise known as toxics. Pollution from dirty coal-fired power plants significantly contributes to the poor air quality found in many places in Georgia. The Medical Association of Georgia estimates that pollution from power plants annually triggers 1,362 heart attacks.
• In Georgia, coal-fired power plants, whose carbon dioxide emissions are uncontrolled, represent the single largest source of carbon dioxide-the main global warming pollution.
• Coal ash waste contains high concentrations of heavy chemicals such as lead, mercury and arsenic. The December TVA coal ash spill (a spill that was 100x larger than the infamous Exxon Valdez spill) demonstrated the dangers of coal ash waste like no other event in history.
At every step in the process in using coal for electricity, Georgians and citizens around the country are adversely affected. The more we as Georgians rely on coal, the more we face detriment to our health, environment, and our economy. We believe that clean energy is the alternative.
Georgia’s significant renewable energy potential remains largely untapped. Through a combination of energy efficiency initiatives and renewable energy sources such as biomass, off-shore wind, and solar power, Georgia can meet future energy demands without relying upon polluting, outdated technologies such as coal.