Coal in Washington State

Coal-fired power plants are the leading global warming culprit in the U.S., accounting for more than 30% of our nation's carbon dioxide emissions. They also are one of the nation's largest sources of air pollutants, damaging cardiovascular and respiratory health and threatening healthy child development.

Particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and other air toxics are among the dangerous mix of pollutants spewed from the smokestacks of coal plants.

John Henry Coal Mine: Black Diamond, WA

In the fall of 2017, Pacific Coast Coal Company (PCCC) announced plans to resume mining operations at a 30 acre coal mine facility just 30 miles south of Seattle, which ceased production in 1999. PCCC proposes to burn 40% of the 85,000-90,000 tons of coal mined each year at the nearby Ash Grove cement factory in Seattle.

Washington State currently has no active coal mines, and this project's construction would threaten that progress - causing 250,000 tons of carbon pollution each year. The company currently seeks permits to construct the facility, and WPSR is a part of a growing coalition of groups organizing in opposition. Add your name to the “No to coal mining in King County” petition here.

Trans Alta Coal Plant: Centralia, WA

The Canadian-owned TransAlta Coal Plant in Centralia is Washington's last coal-fired power plant. While providing only 20% of the state's power, it is the state's largest point source of mercury, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxide pollution. The plant releases 2.3 million tons of coal ash each year, which is comprised of several toxic chemicals including arsenic, lead, barium and chromium.

The plant the largest single source of global warming pollution in our state. The pollution created at the coal plant affects all of the body's major organ systems, and contributes to four of the five leading causes of mortality in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.

The good news? TransAlta is scheduled to be shut down in 2025.

The bad news? That's not soon enough.

As Dr. Alexander Hamling, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, wrote in The Tacoma News-Tribune:

TransAlta is not only jeopardizing the health of children, but the health effects linked to TransAlta's pollution are also draining Washington's economy. The National Research Council's report, "Hidden Costs of Energy," found that we spend roughly $11.2 million every year to pay for health care costs linked to TransAlta. 

Millennium Bulk Terminals: Longview, WA 

The Millennium terminal plans to export up to 44 million tons of strip-mined coal per year from the Powder River Basin through a port in Longview, Washington. If built, Millennium would be the largest coal export terminal in North America.

In November, 2017, the Cowlitz County Hearing Examiner denied two shoreline conditional use permits for the proposed coal export terminal - which would be the nation’s largest. Those denials increased the total of denied project permits to four; the facility cannot be built without these permits. Cowlitz County officials released a draft Health Impact Assessment of the coal export terminal in December, 2017. The report found an expected increase in cancer rates along rail lines, higher rates of diesel particulate pollution - which would exacerbate asthma and harm cardiovascular health, and delay of emergency response vehicles. We continue to work with Oregon PSR and the Power Past Coal coalition (an alliance of health, environmental, businesses, clean-energy, faith and community groups working to stop coal export off the West Coast) to put a stop to this facility. More resources and information on the Millennium Bulk Terminals project is available on the Power Past Coal website.


Coal and Climate Change

Within the electricity sector, CO2 emissions from coal-fired electricity generation comprise nearly 80 percent of the total emissions, but the share of electricity generation from coal is only 50 percent. This disproportionate carbon footprint is due to the high carbon content of coal relative to other fossil fuels like natural gas. Without the ability to capture and safely store CO2, emissions from the fleet of new coal plants proposed across the country will make it virtually impossible to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.

As global temperatures increase, public health will suffer as a result of increased heat waves, more severe storms, worsening air pollution and the spread of vector borne diseases such as malaria and West Nile virus. Sea level rise will severely disrupt the lives of the more than 150 million U.S. residents living in and around our nation's coastal cities and towns. Across the U.S., the poorest and most vulnerable individuals those least able to adapt will be disproportionately affected as the U.S. public health infrastructure becomes overburdened by the impacts of global warming.

Coal's Assault on Human Health

Physicians for Social Responsibility has released a groundbreaking medical report, "Coal's Assault on Human Health," which takes a new look at the devastating impacts of coal on the human body. Coal combustion releases mercury, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and dozens of other substances known to be hazardous to human health.

This report looks at the cumulative harm inflicted by those pollutants on three major body organ systems: the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, and the nervous system. The report also considers coal's contribution to global warming, and the health implications of global warming.

Coal's Assault on Human Health: Executive Summary

Coal's Assault on Human Health: Full Report


For more information:

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The Medical and Public Health Impacts of Global Warming

A fact sheet on the health impacts of global warming. 

Children at Risk: How Air Pollution from Power Plants Threatens the Health of America's Children

A fact sheet on the impact of air pollution from power plants on health.

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Coal-Fired Power Plants: Understanding the Health Costs of a Dirty Energy Source

A fact sheet on the health impacts of coal-fired power plants. 

Health Concerns about Coal Export in the Northwest

A fact sheet from the Power Past Coal Coalition on the health impacts of coal export in the Northwest.