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How it Works: Water for Coal

"Coal-fired power plants, which produce almost half of the country’s electricity, have significant impacts on water quantity and quality in the United States. Water is used to extract, wash, and sometimes transport the coal; to cool the steam used to make electricity in the power plant; and to control pollution from the plant. The acts of mining and burning coal, as well as dealing with the waste, also can have major effects on water quality."

Google Maps: Producing Coal Mines In America (2014)

You will need to zoom in to view the individual coal mines in each region of country. Warmer color balloons are mines that produced the greatest tonnage of coal in 2014. Click on balloons to see mine name, tonnage produced, underground versus strip mining, and other information about each mine.

Data Source: Energy Information Agency - Coal Mines, Surface and Underground All operating surface and underground coal mines in the United States (2014).

Appalachian Regional Commission history

"Harry M. Caudill (1922-1990) was a mountain warrior who fought for Appalachia and his native Kentucky homeland. He fought with words and political action to preserve his land and local culture, writing books, becoming a citizen activist, winning a seat in the state legislature, and rising to national prominence as a spokesman for Appalachia. During the 1950s and 1960s especially, he rose on the issue of coal mining’s destructive effects on Kentucky land and its people."

"Caudill, after years of battling with the powers that be, had succeeded in drawing attention to the plight of Kentucky and the larger Appalachian Region. Kentucky then, and still today, is besieged by corporate interests who came for the region’s natural wealth, primarily its coal. Caudill not only did battle with the coal barons, but also local corruption and local politicians – often the handmaidens of the outside interests. The cover of one of his books is displayed at right, as its title and subtitle aptly capture what Harry Caudill railed against for much of his life."

Monthly Output of Remaining Coal Generating Plants in New York State

There are three remaining coal generating plants -- the Eastman Kodak (RED) co-generation plant plus two utility scale plants, Kintigh Generating Station (fomerly AES Somerset) and Cayuga Generating Station. This graph shows the combined output of these plants, and how it has declined in recent years. There were more coal plants in the past in New York State, but they are retired or converted over to natural gas, and are not shown on this graph.

Data Source: EIA Electricity Data Browser.


This story from 1984 on Kitgah Generating Station aka AES Someset, illustrate the paradox of what is now New York's dirtest industrial plant, when it comes to air pollution, and requires a landfill that nearly twice as much waste as Albany's Rapp Road Landfill:

"The biggest is in the the cost of preserving the environment. Somerset is described as a $1 billion plant, but actually is a $650 million power generating station, with a coal furnace at one end and a smokestack a quarter-mile away."

"That quarter-mile is filled with a jumble of buildings containing $350 million in pollution-control equipment, a complex of machines and treatment facilities that takes a score of workers to operate, and uses enough electricity to supply a city of 35,000."

"The result is that the long, low plume of smoke that drifts from the 625-foot stack over the fields of cows and crops is relatively benign, the utlility says."

"The sulfur and soot that would normally go up the stack are collected in solid form. And to avoid creating sulfur dioxide, an ingredient of acid rain - which has been blamed for damage to lakes and forests in the Northeast and Canada - the equipment uses large amounts of limestone and other substances to bind the sulfur chemically."

"The result is that the plant produces 1,250 tons of calcium sulfate and 600 tons of fly ash a day that must be hauled away."

"Disposing of this amount of material is not quite as much of a challenge as bringing in the 5,000 tons of coal that the plant burns each day. That required the construction of a 15.5-mile railroad, for $53.5 million, that connects the plant with the Conrail network."

"To supply the monthly electric needs of a family using 500 kilowatt-hours from Somerset, the utility hauls 333 pounds of coal from Pennsylvania to the site, and disposes of 110 pounds of waste."

How dead is coal in New York?

In November 2002, New York generated 2,100 gigawatt hours of electricity from coal.
In November 2016, New York generated 22 gigawatt hours of electricity from coal.

It’s been five and half years (July 2011) since the state has produced more then 1,000 gigawatt hours of electricity in any particular month from coal.

We are down to two utility-scale power plants that burn coal, Kintigh Generating Station in Somerset, Niagara County (slated for retirement) and Cayuga Operating Station in Tompkins County, north of Ithaca (slated for conversation to natural gas).

Coal and jobs in the United States

"There are approximately 174,000 blue-collar, full-time, permanent jobs related to coal in the U.S.: mining (83,000), transportation (31,000), and power plant employment (60,000). (See below for details on each sector.) The U.S. civilian labor force totaled 141,730,000 workers in 2005; thus, permanent blue-collar coal industry employees represent 0.12% of the U.S. workforce."