Letter: Clean coal is a sales pitch – Helena Independent Record, Feb. 7, 2014

February 7, 2014

Categories: Coal, Letters, News


I read the recent dialogue in these pages about Montana coal. Anyone describing coal as “clean” is trying to sell something. And like a car salesman peddling a lemon, they realize you wouldn’t buy it if you knew the whole story.

The notion that coal from the Powder River Basin (PRB) of Montana and Wyoming is somehow “clean” is not even a half-truth, but stems from one aspect of PRB coal: its sulfur content is lower than that of other coal deposits. When PRB coal is burned it results in less acid rain and sulfur particulates than coal with higher sulfur content.

But sulfur is just one of many hazardous pollutants in coal. Of all electricity sources, coal is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the principal cause of climate change. This includes PRB coal. As with all coal, burning PRB coal also emits nitrogen oxides linked to lung ailments, heart disease, and strokes. Burning PRB coal also emits significant amounts of mercury, a toxin that even at small levels can cause neurological impairment, particularly in children. (A thorough account of the myriad health impacts of coal can be found in “The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health” by Doctor Alan Lockwood.) Add the destruction of our aquifers and agricultural lands from strip-mining and toxic sludge, and the last adjective to describe coal is “clean.”

So next time a huckster tries to promote coal, look under the hood and review the facts, including climate trends and their effects on human health and economies. A shiny wax won’t transform a jalopy into an efficient new car just as false labels won’t lessen coal’s disastrous impacts. It’s time we move onto a truly clean energy highway and leave coal in the rear view.

John Dillon


220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154