The coal industry keeps treating our atmosphere as their private sewage, causing the premature death of thousands of people around the country every year.
A new study by the Sierra Club revealed that soot pollution (or particulate matter) from coal-burning plants causes some 3,800 premature deaths each year. Half of those deaths are triggered by only 10 percent of those plants and, therefore, they are considered super polluters. The report, titled “Out of Control: The Deadly Impact of Coal Pollution,” concluded that the three most lethal plants in the country are General James M. Gavin (Ohio, 244 deaths), Labadie (Missouri, 195), and Keystone (Pennsylvania, 160).
Exposure to particulate matter can cause asthma attacks, decreased lung function, heart disease and premature death, especially among the elderly and children.
We Latinos also suffer this punishment. For us, the data underlying the Sierra Club report found the three most lethal plants are W A Parish (Texas), Martin Lake (Texas) and Labadie (Missouri). Similarly, the three utilities that cause the most damage to Latino communities are NRG Energy Inc., Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Vistra Corp. Not only do we suffer the consequences of coal pollution, but a previous Sierra Club survey among Latino voters found that 40 percent of us live, work or study dangerously close to a polluting site—including coal plants—and that 45 percent of us or our families have confronted asthma.
“This report proves what communities across the country know all too well: soot pollution kills.”
Ben Jealous, Executive Director, Sierra Club
The coal report indicates that, in general, only 4 percent of the premature deaths take place in the county where the coal plant is located because of wind patterns that blow this pollution away to distant places where communities suffer the most damage. For instance, New York, a state with high Latino density, particulate matter pollution causes the death of 234 people every year, even though there are no coal plants in that state.
Utilities, nevertheless, won’t learn. The study revealed that the worst companies have no plans to either reduce or eliminate their pollution and that more than half of those still active still lack air pollution controls.
“This report proves what communities across the country know all too well: soot pollution kills,” said Sierra Club executive director Ben Jealous. “All communities–regardless of their zip code, income, or race–have the right to breathe clean air, and it is simply unacceptable that thousands of people are left to die from coal plant pollution every year when we have clean energy alternatives readily available.”
The Beyond Coal Campaign, along with communities across the country, has accomplished the retirement or proposed retirement of 370 coal plants in the US. But 160 others still remain active. That’s why the EPA must be bold in reinforcing the current soot protections. Its current draft standard fails to address controlling emissions from power plants that contribute to particulate matter. On the other hand, the EPA does have the authority to demand that the most lethal plants install modern pollution controls or to shut the facilities down for good.
The coal industry’s days are numbered. According to the International Energy Agency, solar will overcome coal as the world’s premier energy source by 2027. And in Europe, 22 percent of the total electricity is generated by solar and wind, crushing coal and gas.
What remains to be seen is when common sense along with clean and renewable energy will finally mark the end of a fossil fuel that is killing us.
Javier Sierra writes the monthly bilingual column Sierra & Tierra.
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