Dennis Rehberg believes that, “Clean coal is a perfect example of how Montana can lead the way into energy independence.” The only problem is that “clean coal” doesn’t exist and never will. Coal is the dirtiest form of energy on the planet. In a recent peer-reviewed study by Duke University, the researchers found that we have done a fairly good job of regulating coal-fired power plants to keep their pollutants out of the air. The problem is, those pollutants don’t just go away. They end up in the solid or slurry coal ash, produced and stored by the plants. Communities near coal mines and coal-burning power plants see much higher levels of pollution-caused health problems.
“Among the problems identified in children and infants in these communities are impaired growth and neurological development, high blood levels of heavy metals, higher prevalences of any birth defects and a greater chance of being of low birth weight, which is a risk factor for future obesity, diabetes and heart disease,”
The worst example in Montana, and in the interior west, is the coal-fired plant at Colstrip, Montana. In 2011, the EPA ranked the Colstrip plant as the worst mercury polluter in the nation. In 2009, Colstrip emitted 1,490 pounds of toxic mercury into the atmosphere out of total emissions of 1,726 pounds statewide. A 2004 study estimated that the Colstrip steam-generating plant is annually responsible for;
- 31 early deaths.
- 48 added heart attacks.
- 530 asthma attacks.
- 22 hospital admissions.
- 19 cases of chronic bronchitis.
Coal ash is stored in antiquated slurry ponds at the plant which have been leaking toxins into the ground water around Colstrip for decades. 57 Colstrip residents filed suit against PPL due to a plume of toxic chemicals that polluted their drinking-water sources and made folks mysteriously sick for years. The suit resulted in a $25 million settlement in 2008. In another part of the suit that was recently in the news, a 2010 settlement is being challenged in the Montana Supreme Court for pollution of groundwater on two local ranches. Extraction wells have been installed around the leaking ponds and the groundwater is captured and the contaminated water is evaporated off to form a thick paste. The paste is then put back in the same leaky ponds, but is considered less likely to seep out.
So, while Congressman Rehberg continues to believe that we will be able to “Advance our technology so we are able to produce more with less in a manner that doesn’t negatively impact our environment.” He’s just wrong. That toxic waste won’t magically go away,
…the contaminants don’t just disappear. They remain, trapped but largely untreated, in concentrated solid form as coal ash or in liquid form as scrubber wastewater and ash-transport slurries. And they’re accumulating in the lakes and rivers into which the plants directly discharge these wastes.
It’s not helpful when our elected congressman votes
- to bar EPA from enforcing greenhouse gas regulations.
- to not enforce limits on CO2 emissions.
- against tax credits for renewable sources of energy.
- against tax incentives for energy conservation.
- against raising CAFE standards and incentives for alternate fuels.
- to open more of our public lands to drilling for oil.
Coal is not clean and cannot be made clean. Coal will continue to kill people around the globe and change our environment until we make a serious commitment to changing the way we make our energy. We will continue to use coal for many decades, but we must do so responsibly and in recognition of the hazards that burning carbon inflicts on everybody. Rehberg talks a good game, but magical thinking and “clean coal” won’t get us out of this mess.