Getting Off Coal

Coal is one of the dirtiest energy sources on the planet. It is used to produce half of America's electricity and is the country's leading source of global warming pollution.


Coal is a dirty business from the mine to the plant, and beyond. Coal mining destroys vast amounts of land -- including entire mountains -- pollutes our rivers and streams, and has significant environmental effects on local communities and wildlife. We have nearly 600 large, old, and dirty coal plants in the United States. Pollution from these plants produces dirty air and water that affect our health and acid rain and toxic sludge that destroys wildlife and wild places across the country.

Coal threatens our fish and wildlife, pollutes our waters, destroys our mountains, and releases toxic chemicals into our communities. It's critical that we end our dependence on coal and transition to a clean energy future.


Coal Export

Nearly half of all of the coal that the U.S. burns comes from the Powder River Basin (PRB) in Wyoming and Montana -- America's largest source of coal. Now, some of the world’s largest coal companies are hoping to ramp up mining at the PRB and ship the coal overseas which will result in the destruction of public lands and wildlife habitat as well as increased health risks for local communities. NWF and our allies are fighting to prevent the mining of sacred places, like Otter Creek, and to stop the proposed port terminals to ship PRB coal to Asia.

Accounting for the carbon impacts of coal exports:

NWF released an issue brief entitled “Accounting for Carbon Pollution from Coal Mining on Federal Lands‚Äč” which looked at the overall carbon impact of the coal being leased and exported from public lands. Increasingly, as domestic demand for coal declines, this coal is exported through coal terminals in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

The leasing and export of coal on public lands could result in the emissions equivalent of 280 power plants. This comes at a time when President Obama is making great strides to limit carbon pollution, most notably through the limits of carbon emissions for new and existing power plants. The massive amount of carbon emissions from proposed coal exports would severely undermine the forward progress we are making to tackle climate change.

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Mountaintop removal mining is an especially destructive method of extracting coal that has far-reaching environmental effects. Vast acres of trees are cleared and mountaintops are blasted apart in order to expose underlying coal seams for extraction. Mountaintop removal mining has already destroyed some 500 mountains, decimated 1 million acres of forest, and buried an estimated 2,000 miles of streams.

The practice is particularly devasting to areas of the Appalachian range, leveling mountains and leaving enormous scars across our eastern forests. National Wildlife is pursuing an innovative strategy to stop the worst abuses of Big Coal and protect the communities and wildlife in the region.

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Help support NWF's work to protect the wildlife and wild places of Appalachia from the devastating impacts of mountaintop removal >>

Toxic Coal Ash

Coal ash is an abundant and dangerous by-product of burning coal for electricity, and has disastrous effects on human health and wildlife in communities across the U.S. For decades, coal plants have been able to dump this toxic byproduct into unlined ponds and landfills, resulting in spills into rivers, streams, and even entire communities.

Reports and Fact Sheets

FACT SHEET: Mercury Pollution from Coal-fired Power Plants (pdf)

Coal-fired power plants are by far the largest source of mercury pollution in America, placing our public health and wildlife at grave risk.

REPORT: Poisoning Wildlife: The Reality of Mercury Pollution (pdf)

Our dependence on coal has left a legacy that is being documented in wildlife nationwide.

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