Clean Water and Dirty Coal Don't Mix

Dark Secret of World Water Day: Coal-Fired Plants Drink 1.5 Trillion Gallons, Then We Drink Backwash

Here's a sobering fact on World Water Day: Coal-fired power plants
use approximately 1.5 trillion gallons of water a year in the US.

In many respects, some folks might use more water flicking on their
lights, than chugging back a glass of that wondrous stuff.

Makes you wonder: Has the EPA ever tabulated the external costs of
coal on our water resources?

And then, after that refreshing drink of desperately needed water,
the 600-odd coal-fired plants typically throw up their chemically
enhanced processed wastewater into our rivers and waterways, poisoning
our own drinking water.

According to a recent analysis of EPA data, the NY Times

"Power plants are the nation's biggest producer of toxic
waste, surpassing industries like plastic and paint manufacturing and
chemical plants."

But the cleaner air has come at a cost. Each day since the equipment was
switched on in June, the company has dumped tens of thousands of
gallons of wastewater containing chemicals from the scrubbing process
into the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to 350,000
people and flows into Pittsburgh, 40 miles to the north.

"It's like they decided to spare us having to breathe in these
poisons, but now we have to drink them instead," said Philip Coleman,
who lives about 15 miles from the plant and has asked a state judge to
toughen the facility's pollution regulations. "We can't escape."

Even as a growing number of coal-burning power plants around the
nation have moved to reduce their air emissions, many of them are
creating another problem: water pollution.

Not that the coal industry hasn't already fouled our headwaters and
waterways through strip-mining and underground mining pollution. As the
NY Times reported in their amazing "Toxic Waters" series, communities
across the coalfields of Appalachia do not have access to drinking water,
due to the contamination of their watersheds and wells from coal slurry.

Mountaintop removal mining alone has destroyed over 2,000 miles of
streams and waterways in Appalachia--given that strip-mining takes place
in over 20 states, feel free to extrapolate the impact of this
devastating mining process and legally permitted toxic discharges to
watersheds and stream for thousands of communities across the nation.

(On the northern Arizona reservations, Peabody Energy pumped out an
estimated one billion gallons of scarce water per year to operate its
slurry operations at the Black Mesa strip mine--which was recently
denied a life-of-mine permit.)

In the meantime, underground longwall mining--the reckless process of
removing pillars from underground mines and allowing for massive
subsidence--is plundering the water sources in the farm belt of Illinois, and across coal states
like Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Peruse these stats as you drink today:

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:

A typical 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant draws about 2.2 billion
gallons of water each year from nearby water bodies, such as lakes,
rivers, or oceans, to create steam for turning its turbines. This is
enough water to support a city of approximately 250,000 people.

And here's a graph of water violations from coal-fired plants in
eastern and Midwestern states, based on the NY Times analysis of the EPA


And here's an interesting video from a local battle in Georgia to halt
plans for the Washington power plant:

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