Environmental Issues

Coal: America's Energy

Given the choice of natural gas, oil, nuclear power, hydropower, or coal, most Americans don't know which fuel source accounts for most of the electricity generated in the United States.

Coal is primarily powering this nation into the 21st century. But, surveys show that most of us don't know that coal and fossil fuels are the dominant fuels that give power to our daily lives. Half of those surveyed think that hydropower is their primary source of electricity but, that is not so. Actually, 75% to 80% of the electric used on the Gascosage system currently comes from coal-fired power plants.

Today, coal is electricity, and electricity is America's lifeline. It's the power for the clock radios that wake us up each morning, for the computers and TVs that provide us entertainment and information, and for dozens of other electric tools that make our lives easier. Our nation depends on electricity powering our businesses, factories and even our country's defense.

Based on current production, we have enough recoverable coal reserves to last about 270 years, according to the National Mining Association.

As a fuel, coal suffers from an image of being dirty and harmful to the environment. It has been a target for groups that blame coal as the reason for acid rain, global warming and other health and environmental issues. There is no question that firing coal in power plants does produce emissions. However, methods and technologies can and are being used to reduce those emissions while still producing the electricity vital to our nation.

Using those technologies, low-cost and reliable electricity from coal is being produced in accordance with our nation's environmental laws. In the past 20 years, major strides have been made in reducing emissions from coal-fired plants, as well as developing technologies that will serve to improve environmental quality in the future.

There are a number of reasons for this clearing of the air in America. The National Mining Association reports that coal is being cleaned more before being delivered to power plants. Secondly, more low-sulfur coal is being used. And finally, clean coal technologies have been developed and installed to lower emissions even more while improving the generating capabilities of power plants. Among those technologies are 'scrubbers' and 'precipitators' that reduce sulfur, particulates and other impurities.

Global warming has been getting more and more attention with predictions by some that there will be dangerous results - more storms, more floods, more disease and other environmental impacts. The phenomena of global warming assumes that the greenhouse effect - the ability of the atmosphere to absorb and slowly release the sun's heat - will increase based on increasing concentration of 'greenhouse gases' being produced by human activities.

Among those greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, produced by fossil fuel-fired power plants. Technology to limit carbon dioxide has not been developed for large scale power plants. As we race to develop the technology to limit carbon dioxide, we must ensure that Americans have the energy they need for their home and jobs well into the future.

We are entering the time when we need to balance the competing goals of cleaning up carbon dioxide, the need for dependable electricity and the cost of the electricity we use. Each of us has a role to play in the debate that is currently before the US Congress. Please go to the OUR ENERGY OUR FUTURE website and enter your name and address to notify your elected officials that you want your opinion and concerns to be heard.

Remember, coal was an important part of America's past. It is an abundant and affordable fuel that has been used to produce reliable, low-cost electricity and can continue to serve us into the future.