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Archive for May 26th, 2009

While we at Public Citizen Texas are fighting the building of new coal power plants in Texas and the surrounding states, the focus has largely been on the CO2, sulfur and other pollutants emitted into the air by the burning of coal, not to mention its inefficiency as a fuel source. We often over look or neglect to think about the huge environmental destruction associated with getting coal out of the ground, as well as the history of health and safety risks associated with coal mining.

Historically these issues were brought up as some of the biggest objections to the use of coal as an energy source. One just needs to listen to John Prine’s “Paradise” or read any of the works by Wendell Berry on the topic (both document destruction caused by strip mining in Kentucky) to see how important the impact of coal mining was to environmentalists of past generations. This shift in focus has in no doubt been due the transfer of mining away from more populated regions to remote regions like the Powder River Basin, in Wyoming.

Traditionally coal mining has taken place underground and has been done by miners with shovels and picks (often exposing workers to dangerous and health compromising conditions). This is still the image of coal mining that resides in America’s popular consciousness. However this image is no longer accurate, as 67% of America’s coal is now extracted from the earth above ground. Surface mining techniques have become very popular for coal production since the development of steam shovels in the early twentieth century. Surface mining techniques revolve around removing the layers of Earth (overburden) above with large machines to expose the coal field to the surface where workers can easily extract it. This technique can be used to extract coal that is up to 200 ft deep within the Earth. (more…)

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