Pennsylvania and coal

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Pennsylvania coal mines produced 66.0 million tons of coal in 2006 (5.7% of the U.S. total), making Pennsylvania the fourth-biggest coal-producing state in the country (after Wyoming, West Virginia, and Kentucky). Of this total, 64.5 million tons were bituminous coal, and 1.5 million tons were anthracite coal (Pennsylvania is the only producer of anthracite in the U.S.).[1] Pennsylvania employed 7,526 coal miners in 2006, of whom 869 mined anthracite.[2]

Pennsylvania had 78 coal-fired generating stations in 2005, with 20,475 MW of capacity - representing 41.5% of the state's total electric generating capacity, and making Pennsylvania the 4th biggest coal energy producing state in the U.S.[3] In 2006, Pennsylvania's coal-fired power plants produced 117.0 million tons of CO2, 819,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 156,000 tons of nitrogen oxide; coal-fired power plants were responsible for 43.1% of the state's total CO2 emissions.[4] In 2005, Pennsylvania emitted 21.84 tons of CO2 per person, slightly more than the U.S. average.[5]


The state of Pennsylvania has massive coal reserves - it is estimated that the state's original resources totaled 84.6 billion tons of bituminous coal, and 22.8 billion tons of anthracite. A vast bituminous coal field covers most of southwestern Pennsylvania, while anthracite fields are concentrated in mountainous regions in the east of the state.[6]

Coal mining in Pennsylvania began in the mid-18th century, near modern-day Pittsburgh. The industry grew slowly until after the Civil War; Pennsylvania coal production grew explosively in the last decades of the 19th century. Vast railroad networks were constructed to extract coal from the state's mines. By 1881, Pennsylvania was mining 81.7 million tons of coal per year - dwarfing the second-biggest coal-producing state, Illinois, in which 12.1 million tons were produced. The Pennsylvania coal mining industry peaked in 1918, when 330,000 coal miners (four times the total number of coal miners in the entire U.S. in 2006) produced 277 million tons of coal (nearly five times the state's present-day total).[6][7][8][9][10]

This mining boom came at great human cost. Between 1870 and 1930, coal mining disasters (in which five or more miners were killed) claimed the lives of 2,966 Pennsylvania coal miners. (Compare this figure with the 960 coal miners who have been killed in mining disasters in the entire U.S. between 1948 and 2008.)[11]

Beginning in the last decades of the 19th century, coal miners formed unions and demanded safer working conditions and higher wages. These attempts at unionization were initially met with brutal repression. On Sept. 10, 1897, at the Lattimer mine near Hazleton, PA, a sheriff's posse shot and killed 19 unarmed striking immigrant coal workers; the incident, dubbed the Lattimer massacre, was widely reported and won sympathy for coal miners from large segments of the American middle class.[12] The incident increased the strength of the United Mine Workers, which then called a strike of 100,000 anthracite coal miners in eastern Pennsylvania in 1902, threatening the heating coal supply for the entire Northeast; after President Theodore Roosevelt intervened (the first case of federal arbitration in a labor dispute in U.S. history), the strike ended after 154 days, with management agreeing to moderate pay increases and de facto recognition of the union.[13] However, vicious labor battles in Pennsylvania continued until 1933, when the National Industrial Recovery Act was passed; after 1933, U.S. labor unions were legally recognized, and the next several decades saw dramatic improvements in both the wages and the working conditions of U.S. coal miners.

However, since the 1930's, coal mining has declined dramatically in Pennsylvania - after increased labor expenses and declining coal reserves drove coal mining companies elsewhere, initially to Appalachia, and then to Wyoming and Montana. By 1950, the state's coal production had dropped to 140 million tons per year; by 2006, it had dropped to 66 million tons. The biggest decline has hit the anthracite coal mining industry: anthracite, which was primarily used for residential heating, has become increasingly economically obsolete, and anthracite production in Pennsylvania - which peaked at 99.6 million tons in 1917 - has declined to 1.5 million tons in 2006.[14]

However, the coal power industry enjoys continued strength in Pennsylvania. In 2005, Pennsylvania had 20,475 MW of coal generating capacity, making it the fourth-biggest coal energy producing state.

Citizen activism

June 2009: Pennsylvania town fighting to ban coal mining

Blaine Township, a small town about 40 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, is trying to ban coal mining within its borders. The town has passed three ordinances that ban coal mining and require corporations in any industry to disclose their activities to local government. As of June 2009, Penn Ridge Coal LLC, a division of Alliance Resource Partners, and Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Co., a division of Allegheny Energy, were suing the township in federal district court, charging that the ordinances violate their corporate rights.[15]

Blaine Township's supervisors said they seek to establish a principle of local self-government that will lead other communities to do the same. Blaine residents worry that coal mining would destroy their houses and disrupt water supplies. They also hope to block longwall mining, which removes tons of coal from underground without putting anything in its place, causing the land above to sag. According to attorney Tom Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, that township has pushed further than any of the 120 U.S. municipalities that have passed ordinances to curb corporate activity. Linzey predicted that the case would eventually go to the U.S. Supreme Court, although he was doubtful that the township would prevail.[15]

Pennsylvania residents living above continuous old coal mine fire file lawsuit

In 1962 residents of the small mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania burned trash in an abandoned coal strip mine used as a dump near the Odd Fellows Cemetery, not realizing that the mine had not been properly sealed. The fire continued to burn a month later, and bulldozers arrived for a more concerted effort to put it out. The citizens then discovered that the dump contained a 15-foot-long opening that connected to a maze of underground mine tunnels. These passages allowed the fire to spread to the coal seam underneath the town and expand along four fronts, eventually affecting a surface area about two miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide. Since then, around $4 million has been spent to put the Centralia fire out, yet it continues to burn today. No one knows how extensive these empty spaces are, and the effort to quell the blaze has come to an end. “It’s too expensive to tackle, and we’re not sure we can do it anyway,” said Alfred Whitehouse, chief of the Reclamation Support Division of the federal Office of Surface Mining.[16]

In October 2010, residents of Centralia went to federal court in an effort to prevent state officials from evicting them from their homes. The residents lodged a civil rights complaint against the state Department of Community and Economic Development and other defendants, alleging a conspiracy to steal the mineral rights to billions of dollars worth of anthracite coal. The residents asked a federal judge for an injunction that would bar the state from proceeding with eminent domain while their lawsuit was being heard.[17]

The majority of citizens in the town left decades ago, after the mine fire erupted in the 1960s. The underground coal fire burned slowly for over 20 years and eventually all but wiped the entire city of Centralia. Health officials claim that the fire still poses health threats to locals still living in the area. Property owners counter that the fire is all but out and does not threaten their homes or health. Instead, they counter, the fire is being used as a cover to reopen the mine. The rights to the mine are owned by Centralia, but if the remaining homeowners are evicted, those rights revert to the the State and could be sold to private coal companies in the future.[18]

April 2010: protest against MTR financing

On April 1, 2010, environmentalists with Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) and Philly Rising Tide gathered outside of PNC Bank, telling morning commuters not to be “fossil fooled” by the Bank's labeling of itself as “A Green Bank with Eco-Friendly Service,” as PNC Bank has direct and indirect connections to mountaintop removal coal mining.[19]

According to the groups, in 2003 PNC provided to Massey Energy, the most aggressive mountaintop removal mining company in the industry, with a $55 million line of credit. In 2006, PNC assisted Peabody Energy in establishing a $2.75 billion credit facility. In 2008, PNC held 33% of BlackRock shares, a leading asset management firm with energy portfolios that focus on coal companies, including companies that practice mountaintop removal. PNC’s CEO, James E. Rohr, is called an “insider” member of BlackRock’s Board of Directors.[19]

Debate over the now canceled Robinson Steam Plant Plant.

Pennsylvania sues Consol over discharges

On September 7, 2011, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission filed a complaint against Consol Energy over discharges from two coal mines in West Virginia - Blacksville 2 Mine and Loveridge 22 Mine - saying the discharges killed thousands of fish, mussels, salamanders, and other wildlife along a 30-mile stretch of the tributary, Dunkard Creek, in 2009. The commission is seeking compensatory damages for lost aquatic life and angling opportunities as well as punitive damages to deter future pollution.

Dead fish began surfacing on Sept. 8, 2009, after illegally high levels of total dissolved solids and chlorides turned Dunkard Creek brackish and fostered a toxic golden algae bloom that is more common to southern coastal waters. About 42,997 fish representing 40 species, from black bass to muskellunge, were killed along with 15,382 freshwater mussels, including the rare snuffbox variety, and 6,447 mudpuppies, the complaint states. People who lived along the creek recounted watching fish bleed to death from their gills and mussel shells pop open. Because so many adult fish were killed, it will take years for aquatic populations to recover, according to the claim.

In March 2011, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state of West Virginia reached a $5.5 million settlement with Consol that covered violations at six of the company’s mines, including those relating to the fish kill in Dunkard Creek. Although most of the damage occurred in Pennsylvania’s portion of Dunkard, the state was not party to the federal suit because Consol’s discharge permits were issued in West Virginia.[20]

Legislative issues

2009: House Bill 80

House Bill 80, sponsored by Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, and Senate Bill 92, a companion bill sponsored by state Sen. Ted Erickson, R-Delaware, would require Pennsylvania coal plants to implement carbon capture and sequestration technologies. Key components of the bills would:[21]

  • increase the amount of electricity from renewable sources that electric distribution companies must purchase by 20 percent from 2021 to 2026.
  • increase the amount of electricity from solar photovoltaic panels that electricity companies must purchase and use to 3 percent by 2026.
  • require that 3 percent of the energy purchased by electric distribution companies come from coal plants that capture carbon emissions
  • require the state to develop, own, and operate a CCS "network"

Hearings on the bills were scheduled to begin March 12, 2009.[21] As of August 2009, HB 80 was still being debated heavily in the House, and had attracted 30 amendments to satisfy competing interests.[22]

2011: Governor budget would give Economic Dept. executive power over federal regulations

In March 2011, Gov. Tom Corbett introduced language in his 1,184-page budget that would hand authority to the head of the Department of Community and Economic Development - C. Alan Walker - to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” Walker is CEO and owner of Bradford Energy Company and Bradford Coal, once among Pennsylvania’s largest coal mining companies, who also has an interest in 12 other companies, including a central Pennsylvania oil and gas company. Walker has contributed $184,000 to Corbett’s campaign efforts since 2004, and was Corbett’s first appointee before taking office in 2010.[23]

It’s not clear how Corbett could delegate such sweeping authority to the economic development office, nor how the state would address the legal conflicts that could arise if Walker pushed for approval of a permit that conflicted with existing federal laws like the Clean Water Act. Environmental groups think Corbett will need to issue an executive order or some other legal clarification to allow Walker’s office to wield so much influence over regulations. A spokesman for the economic development office said Walker will not speak publicly until his confirmation.[23]

Walker is listed on state disclosure forms as an executive of the Pennsylvania Coal Association and he has served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. He also has firsthand experience with the state’s environmental regulations, as his companies would likely have applied for permits similar to those the oil and gas industry is now pursuing in the Marcellus Shale. In 2002, three of Walker’s coal companies notified Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection that they had run out of money and were going to stop treating the 173 million gallons of polluted water they produced each year and released into tributaries of the Susquehanna River. The state eventually got a court injunction to force them to continue treating the wastewater, as required by state and federal law.[23]

2011: Update of Coal and Gas Resource Coordination Act

On May 13, 2011, Gov. Tom Corbett signed Senate Bill 265 into law, which would place stricter mandates on the Coal and Gas Resource Coordination Act.

The amendments include the following:[24]

  • Gas well drillers seeking to drill in an operating coal mine must attach the written consent of the mine operators to permit applications.
  • Drillers must leave safe spacing between gas well clusters that penetrate workable coal seams - the state will not issue a gas drilling permit unless a gas well cluster is at least 2,000 feet from the nearest gas well cluster, unless the owner of a coal seam gives written consent.
  • The bill contains a dispute resolution process that could be used if a permit applicant disagrees with the owner of a coal seam.
  • Well operators must provide a well bore deviation survey to coal seam owners within 60 days of completing drilling.
  • The state Department of Environmental Protection will commission an independent comprehensive evaluation and update of the Joint Coal and Gas Committee Gas Well Pillar Study commissioned in 1956. The state Environmental Quality Board could modify regulations that change the maximum square footage between well clusters based on the results of the study.

Former coal company owner running for Senate

Tom Smith, a former coal-company owner and chairman of a Tea Party group in Indiana and Armstrong counties, is running as a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2012. Smith sold his coal companies to Kittanning-based Rosebud Mining in 2010. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is seeking re-election.[25]

Longwall mining

See also Longwall mining Longwall mining' is a form of underground coal mining where a long wall of coal is mined in a single slice (typically 1-2 m thick). The longwall "panel" (the block of coal that is being mined) is typically 3-4 km long and 250-400 m wide. Longwall mining produced 176 million tons of coal in 2007, about 15 percent of total U.S. production. In addition to Pennsylvania, longwall mines are also located elsewhere in Appalachia and in Illinois, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.[26]

Southwestern Pennsylvania has six of the United States’ top 25 longwall mines, underlying 138,743 acres of rural terrain, or 15 percent of the surface area. The remaining 19 U.S. mines are scattered among West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and western states.[26]

According to the Center for Public Integrity's study of southwestern Pennsylvania, the following damages have occurred:

  • Due to subsidence, homes suffer shattered foundations, crooked roofs, and cracked plaster. As of September, 2008, 1,819 property owners had reported longwall damages since the state of Pennsylvania began documenting such complaints.
  • Longwall is permanently lowering the area’s water table and draining its aquifers; state regulators have reported damages to 23 stretches over 97 miles of mined streams.[26]

2010 Citizens Coal Council report on damage to PA water from longwall mining

In July 2010, the Citizens Coal Council (CCC) - a national alliance of social and environmental justice grassroots groups - released the results of a nine-month long investigation into the regulatory files of three major longwall mining operations in southwestern Pennsylvania: Bailey Mine (Consol Energy), Enlow Fork Mine (Consol), and Emerald Mine (Foundation Coal). Analyzing over 75,000 pages of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) mining files, CCC found "an internal administrative quagmire of illogical permit monitoring, baseless decisions, and lax oversight of coal operators by the PADEP." The report finds that despite improved data collection requirements and strong state constitutional and regulatory safeguards, the PADEP has failed to adequately evaluate and protect against threats to Pennsylvania streams and watersheds adversely affected by the longwall “full extraction” method of coal mining. The report can be found here.

CCC said that while the report only focuses on the past several years of mining records, subsidence damage to streams and watersheds has been allowed by PADEP since Act 54 of 1994, which paved the way for widespread use of longwall mining in Pennsylvania. Communities impacted by longwall-related water losses and property damage have been raising their concerns with legislators and PADEP for the past 16 years. CCC’s website Longwall Mining states: "Like a slow-moving earthquake, longwall mining damages the complex and interrelated system of groundwater and surface water in streams and watersheds. A typical longwall mining panel is more than 1,000 feet wide and several thousand feet long and is usually between 200 to 800 feet below the surface. As the longwall mining shearer moves forward the roof supports move with it and the ceiling behind the supports collapses, generally 4 to 6 feet, causing ground movement and strata displacement and disrupting groundwater flow by creating cracks and fractures as the overlying rock drops into the void left after the coal is removed."

Among the investigation’s key findings:

  • Lax enforcement of state and federal coal mining laws that protect hydrologic balance, including the Cumulative Hydrologic Impact Assessment (CHIA), resulting in stream dewatering and widely-damaged aquatic systems.
  • State water quality standards are inadequately enforced, and permit discharge limits are routinely exceeded; for example, the anti-degradation requirements which can protect high quality water resources most at risk from longwall mining damage.
  • Longwall mining permits are routinely issued based on inadequate assessments of likely impacts to streams, wetlands, and the hydrologic balance.
  • Oversight and enforcement of pre-mining mitigation and post-mining restoration and coal mine reclamation are piecemeal and inadequate, and may in fact be illegal under the Clean Water Act and the PA Clean Streams Law.

2011 state report on damages

A 2011 Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection report, based on research done by the University of Pittsburgh, found that 50 underground coal mines were active in the state from 2003 through 2008, but eight of the state's operating longwall mines caused 94 percent of damage done to 456 structures, as well as 89 percent of the land impacts to 108 properties surveyed. During the five years covered by the new report, 683 wells, springs or ponds were damaged by mining subsidence, and 234 of those cases remained unresolved.

The average time to resolve a case involving those water sources was 321 days, almost a year, and considerably longer than the average time for resolution of structure and land damage claims. Mining operations impacted 55 streams, either reducing or stopping the flow of water or changing flow patterns. Flows had been restored on 20 of the streams, but the work took an average of 688 days, almost two years. Other stream damage has not been fixed.[27]

Coal waste

EPA releases list of 44 "high hazard" coal ash dumps

In response to demands from environmentalists as well as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, the EPA made public a list of 44 "high hazard potential" coal waste dumps. The rating applies to sites at which a dam failure would most likely cause loss of human life, but does not include an assessment of the likelihood of such an event. Pennsylvania has one of the sites, which stores coal combustion waste from Bruce Mansfield Power Station and is owned by FirstEnergy.[28][29] To see the full list of sites, see Coal waste.

2009 report finds coal ash dump is not adequately protected against groundwater contamination

A May 2009 study released by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Earthjustice said that a 15-acre coal ash dump in Upper Mount Bethel Township was not properly lined and did not have adequate controls to prevent groundwater contamination. The dump contains coal ash from the 427-megawatt Portland Generating Station, owned by RRI Energy. The report comes from previously unreleased data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency.[30]

Coal Ash: One Valley's Tale

Lisa Widawsky, an attorney for EIP, said that if the dump contaminates the groundwater with arsenic, nearby residents who drink well water could face cancer risks of 50 times higher than what EPA considers safe. Upper Mount Bethel Township Supervisor Judith Henckel said the power company needs to do more on environmental clean up.[30]

Coal ash used for coal mine reclamation

On December 15, 2010, the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) asked the Pennsylvania Auditor General to investigate the use of coal waste to reclaim old coal mines, citing an alleged dereliction of duties by two state agencies. Pennsylvania pursues a policy of “beneficial use” of coal ash from power plants and kilns by pouring the wastes down abandoned mines despite, PEER said, the documented risks of severe water pollution, toxic vapor and even fire dangers.[31]

PEER specifically targeted the principal report used to secure state regulatory approval of using coal ash as mine fill, "The Use of Dredged Materials in Abandoned Mine Reclamation," a report based on the Bark Camp Demonstration Project. A hydro-geologic expert, Robert Gadinski, filed a formal complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of State in April 2008 about the lack of qualifications of the author of the Bark Camp report, under laws requiring state licensure for geologic consulting work in Pennsylvania. The Department has yet to act on Gadinski’s complaint.[31]

Gadinski prepared a detailed critique of the Bark Camp report, stating:[31]

  • High prospects of groundwater pollution, as well as contamination of connected surface waters;
  • Generation of toxic vapors in mine shafts; and
  • Underground combustion of coal ash wastes.

Gadinski also filed complaints and reports with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), arguing that its reliance on the Bark Camp report was imprudent and legally questionable. PEER requested that the state Auditor General conduct a “performance audit” on both the Department of State for failure to enforce licensure laws and on the DEP for issuing reclamation permits on the basis of "unreliable information amassed from an individual unauthorized to practice geology."[31]

2010 study linking coal ash and groundwater contamination

In August 2010 a study released by the Environmental Integrity Project, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice reported that Pennsylvania, along with 34 states, had significant groundwater contamination from coal ash that is not currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report noted that most states do not monitor drinking water contamination levels near waste disposal sites.[32] The report mentioned Pennsylvania based Bruce Mansfield Power Station and Hatfield's Ferry Power Station as both having groundwater contamination due to coal ash waste.[33]

Cancer and coal waste

In 2010, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published an article discussing identification of a cluster of blood cancer polycythemia vera cases in the Hometown area of northeastern Pennsylvania: "A multidisciplinary group of federal and state agencies, academic institutions, and local healthcare providers subsequently developed a multifaceted research portfolio designed to better understand the cause of the cluster." The article lays out the research to be done, which includes environmental testing around the cluster area's three coal waste cogeneration plants, which also burn waste diesel and fuel oil. The specific genetic mutation found in people with polycythemia vera is known to be associated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and the PAH benzo(a)pyrene, formed during the burning of coal, oil, gas and organic substances.[34]

Coal ash and disease

In December 2010, it was reported that residents in Fayette County's La Belle said they have seen large loads of fly ash arriving in open barges with nothing covering the coal waste. Residents report witnessing how the ash is unloaded onto trucks, with the crane sometimes dropping the ash onto the shoreline of the Monongahela River and left there, or taken to a hilltop where it is dumped and left uncovered. The disposal site owned by Matt Canestrale Contracting Inc. accepts material from Allegheny Energy's Hatfields Ferry Power Station in Greene County. Up the hill from the barge-unloading facility, La Belle residents say coal dust settles on their properties and hangs in the air. They fear wind is picking up the ash from the hilltop dump and exposing surrounding neighborhoods to harmful heavy metals known to cause cancer and other health effects. Downwind from the dump site sits Sauerkraut Hill, where residents say there are nine cases of cancer in the 18 houses.[35]

The Luzerne Township has elevated mortality levels for diseases that have been linked to pollution exposure, according to a 2010 Post-Gazette ecological study on mortality rates. Luzerne had 170 heart-disease deaths from 2000 through 2008 -- 26 percent higher than the national average, which would project 135 deaths. The Mon Valley is near several coal plants -- including the Mitchell Power Station, Elrama Power Plant and Hatfields Ferry Power Station.[35]

A sample of fly ash that was taken from the La Belle dump site, which was tested by local company R.J. Lee Group, showed presence of arsenic and several heavy metals, most significantly lead. These represent levels in the actual ash, not amounts found in the air or on neighboring properties, but George "Sonny" Markish, 72, who lives less than a half mile from the fly-ash dump, is concerned about traces of fly ash and soot detected on the meat freezer inside his garage. Apples with blackened skins on a tree in his yard also contained traces of fly ash. Other residents say their pools are constantly black and their garden fruits and vegetables immediately turn brown.[35]

In response, local resident Gary Kuklish circulated petitions signed by 93 La Belle-area residents that he sent to the state Department of Environmental Protection to seek an investigation and force the owner to clean up the process. DEP officials investigated and ordered the company to dampen roads to reduce coal dust. But Mr. Kuklish believes DEP's actions, to date, have been insufficient to correct the problems and protect the public. In October 2010, the DEP and concerned citizens toured the fly ash depot. Worries began with news in May 2006 that a barge had sunk at the docking site, releasing tons of fly ash into the Mon River.[35]

Study finds dangerous level of hexavalent chromium at Pennsylvania coal waste sites

The study "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash," released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011, reported elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, a highly potent cancer-causing chemical, at several coal ash sites in Pennsylvania.[36] In all, the study cited 29 sites in 17 states where hexavalent chromium contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash as well as from studies by EarthJustice, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Sierra Club.[37][38][39][40] It included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.[36]

According to the report, hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) was found at elevated levels at the following sites:[36]

  • Allegheny Energy's Hatfields Ferry Power Station coal ash landfill at 104 ppb (parts per billion) - 5,200 times the proposed California drinking water goals and 1.04 times above the federal drinking water standard.
  • Reliant Energy's Seward Power Plant's unlined coal waste pond and landfill at 330 ppb - 16,500 times the proposed California drinking water goals and 3.3 times above the federal drinking water standard.
  • PPL's Martins Creek Steam Station unlined coal waste pond at 100 ppb - 5,000 times the proposed California drinking water goals and above the federal drinking water standard.

A press release about the report read:

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.[41]

According to the report, the electric power industry is the leading source of chromium and chromium compounds released into the environment, representing 24 percent of releases by all industries in 2009.[36]

High levels of cancer

In 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted Pennsylvania's coal region contained high levels of cases of polycythemia vera (PV), a rare form of cancer estimated to affect one in 100,000 Americans, but hitting one in four families on a single street in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. Carbon, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties are considered one of the CDC's few confirmed "cancer clusters."

To date, researchers have diagnosed 372 cases, but many of the names provided to researchers by the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry are out of date, and reporting irregularities mean researchers still aren't sure how prevalent the cancer is in the general population.

In June 2011, at the Tamaqua Community Center, researchers said they're still struggling with identifying people with PV, winnowing out the false positives and narrowing down possible environmental causes. In a University of Pittsburgh study seeking to confirm legitimate cases of the blood cancer, only 27 patients out of the 164 queried agreed to participate. The numbers were also low for a study at Drexel University in Philadelphia, which had received 26 positive responses out of 117.

The victims have little in common, researchers say. They don't have the same jobs, the same ancestry, the same lifestyle. The only things they share are age — the disease strikes few under 60 — and living in Carbon, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties.

Progress has been similarly slow for state Department of Environmental Protection field workers, who have collected water, soil and sediment samples from homes of PV patients, nearby power plants and area water sources. Water tests have showed scattered elevations of lead and nitrates and a few homes showed moderate spikes in radon. DEP will extend the search into the atmosphere, to measure the effects of several nearby power plants, among other factors.

The ongoing research may be hampered by a lack of federal and state funding. Researchers are seeking an extension.[42]


Pennsylvania highest in arsenic and lead emissions

A 2011 joint report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), EarthJustice, and the Sierra Club rated the top 5 worst states for toxic power plant emissions. Some of the chemicals used to rank the states’ emission status included chromium, arsenic, lead, and mercury. In terms of sheer pounds of emissions of the four highly toxic heavy metals, Pennsylvania ranked highest in the nation, with #1 rankings for arsenic and lead.[43]

Pennsylvania second highest in national toxic air emissions

Residents of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida live in states with the most toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants, according to a July 2011 NRDC report, "How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States", based on data from the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (2009 data, accessed June 2011). Pennsylvania released over 50 million pounds of toxic air pollutants in 2009, with 41.5 million pounds from the electricity sector (82%).

Among the key findings of the report:

  • Nearly half of all the toxic air pollution reported from industrial sources in the United States comes from coal- and oil-fired power plants.
  • Power plants are the single largest industrial source of toxic air pollution in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

2010 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report on air pollution and disease

In a December 2010, a yearlong Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation found that, through review and analysis of state Department of Health mortality statistics from 2000 to 2008, 14,636 more people died from heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer than national mortality rates for those diseases would predict. Those diseases have been linked to air pollution exposure. Affected communities include Shippingport, Monaca, Bellevue, Pittsburgh and hundreds of others.[44]

The Post-Gazette mapped the mortality rates for heart and lung disease and lung cancer for each of 746 municipalities in the 14-county region and found higher rates around many of the region's 16 coal-fired power plants and 150 other companies considered by the EPA as major stationary sources of pollution emissions. High mortality rates also turned up irregularly in the "plume shadows" of the utilities and industrial sources, that is the downwind area where their emissions can be transported.[44]

After adjusting for slightly higher smoking rates in Pennsylvania, the total number of excess deaths from the three diseases is 12,833, more than 10 percent higher mortality rate overall than would be expected in the population of approximately 3 million people in 14 counties, based on national risk rates for those three diseases. According to the investigation: "All 14 counties have heart disease deaths ranging from 8 percent to 25 percent over the national average rate. Twelve of the 14 have higher respiratory disease death rates ranging from 7 percent to 45 percent above the national rate. Only three counties, including Allegheny, had higher lung cancer rates than the national average, but because the rates in those three counties were so high, the region as a whole had 600 more lung cancer deaths than national rates would have predicted."[44]

Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, and the rest of southwestern Pennsylvania, also show higher mortality rates for multiple sclerosis. Studies suggest particulate matter pollution can trigger, aggravate or cause relapses of the autoimmune disease.[45]

The article notes that, despite federal, state and local regulatory efforts, the region's air still contains high concentrations of fine airborne particles or soot, and ozone, which forms smog. Most of the region's population lives in an area that does not meet federal health standards limiting those pollutants, which the article ties to the high use of coal in the area: "Air pollution at present levels could be causing as much as $9.4 billion a year in damage to the health of the region's population, based on an environmental health risk formula developed by Dr. Jonathan Levy, professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the EPA's science advisory board staff. And a report released this summer by the National Research Council, part of the federally chartered National Academy of Sciences, found that the additional health care and mortality costs caused by air pollution linked to burning coal total $62 billion a year nationwide."[44]

Some other southwestern Pennsylvania counties also have high mortality rates in communities near power plants and coal-burning industrial sources or downwind from them. In more rural counties, such as Armstrong, Indiana, Greene and Clearfield, power plants are the predominant generators of particulate matter and sulfur dioxide pollution. Three Indiana County power plants -- the Homer City, Conemaugh and Seward generating stations -- produce 88 percent of all airborne particulates generated in that county. In Beaver County, the Bruce Mansfield power plant and AES Beaver Valley generation plant in Monaca, both situated along the Ohio River, account for 90.3 percent of the small particle pollution produced by the county's top eight pollution sources.[44]

Pennsylvania second in 2009 mercury emissions

An analysis of federal government data by the environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment shows that Pennsylvania's coal-fired power plants ranked second in the nation in 2009 for mercury emissions. According to the report, Pennsylvania's power plants put out more than 15,000 pounds of mercury that year, second only to Texas. Ohio and West Virginia were third and fourth. State officials have said that smokestack mercury accumulates near power plants, working its way up through the food chain to fish, plants and humans. The federal government says children and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to effects of the toxic metal, which can damage the development of the nervous system. The report also noted that three of the nation's eight dirtiest coal-fired plants are in western Pennsylvania.[46]

Pennsylvania fifth highest in U.S. CO2 emissions

A 2011 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, "Getting Warmer: US CO2 Emissions from Power Plants Emissions Rise 5.6% in 2010" shows that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants in the U.S. rose 5.56 percent in 2010 over 2009, the biggest annual increase since the EPA began tracking emissions in 1995. In total, electricity generators released 2.423 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, compared to 2.295 billion tons in 2009. The report is based on data from the EPA’s “Clean Air Markets” website, which tallies emission reports from electric generators.

The 10 worst states for CO2 pollution identified in the report are, in order, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri. Texas power plants released nearly 257 million tons of CO2, as much as the next two states - Florida and Ohio - combined, and more than seven times the total CO2 emissions from power plants in California. Texas opened three new coal plants toward the end of 2010, with a combined capacity of 2,156 megawatts.

Coal-fired boilers provided 45 percent of U.S. electricity in 2010, but were responsible for 81 percent of total CO2 emissions from electricity generation in 2010.

Other key report findings include the following:

  • 50 coal-fired power plants accounted for 750 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2010, or about a third of the total. The two largest carbon polluters, the Scherer and Bowen power plants in Georgia, together released more than 48 million tons of CO2 in 2010. By comparison, emissions from all power plants in California were 37.1 million tons; in New York, 40 million tons; and in the six states of New England, 40.5 million tons.
  • Coal-fired generation rose 5.2 percent in the 12 months ending November 30, 2010. Nearly 4.5 gigawatts of new coal-fired electric generation came online in 2010, about half of that in Texas. But power companies have also announced plans to retire almost 12 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity within the next few years, including the announcement in Jan. 2011 that Xcel would close nearly 900 megawatts of coal-fired capacity at four different power stations in Colorado.

Carbon capture

Former President Clinton aiding Pennsylvania with "clean coal" development

The William J. Clinton Foundation is assisting the Pennsylvania DEP with a plan to develop a state-run system for transporting and sequestering carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants. The plan, which is supported by legislation introduced in the state House and Senate, would create a pipeline to connect between four and eight sources of CO2 emissions in the state and carry the emissions to a permanent underground storage facility. Pennsylvania is also seeking at least $98 million in federal stimulus money to develop the system.[47]

As part of a 3-year-old climate initiative, the Clinton is also working with Australia and the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.[47]

Report identifies sites for possible carbon sequestration

In May 2009, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources released a report designating sites in the north-central and western parts of the state as likely places for carbon storage for the potential "clean coal" operations being funded by the Clinton Foundation. The report identified depleted gas and oil beds, salt caverns, and coal beds that are not suited to mining as having possible geologic sequestration capabilities. The agency suggested that western Pennyslvania may have the most potential, because much is known about its subsurface rock formations from the long history of oil and gas drilling in the region.[48]

Trade Union Rallies for Clean Coal

In August 2010, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 154, who build and maintain coal-fired power plants, held a rally in Pittsburgh to raise support for so-called clean coal technology. The union stated that at least 1,000 union workers attended the rally which was held during morning rush hour traffic near their headquarters.[49]

Proposed coal plants


Cancelled, abandoned, or on hold


Coal lobbying groups

Coal power companies

Existing coal plants

Pennsylvania had 78 coal-fired generating units at 40 locations in 2005, with 20,475 megawatts (MW) of capacity - representing 41.5% of the state's total electric generating capacity.[50]

Here is a list of coal power plants in Pennsylvania with capacity over 400 MW:[3][51]

Plant Name County Owner Year(s) Built Capacity 2007 CO2 Emissions 2006 SO2 Emissions SO2/MW Rank
Bruce Mansfield Beaver FirstEnergy 1976, 1977, 1980 2741 MW 17,400,000 tons 24,882 tons 226
Homer City Station Indiana Edison International 1969, 1977 2012 MW 12,800,000 tons 106,772 tons 40
Conemaugh Indiana Reliant Energy 1970, 1971 1872 MW 12,100,000 tons 8,037 tons 253
Keystone Armstrong Reliant Energy 1967, 1968 1872 MW 11,500,000 tons 164,354 tons 10
Hatfields Ferry Greene Allegheny Energy 1969, 1970, 1971 1728 MW 8,959,000 tons 135,082 tons 4
Montour Montour PPL 1972, 1973 1625 MW 8,964,000 tons 129,357 tons 15
Brunner Island York PPL 1961, 1965, 1969 1559 MW 9,118,000 tons 93,545 tons 27
Eddystone Delaware Exelon 1960 707 MW 4,128,000 tons 6,454 tons 205
Cheswick Allegheny Reliant Energy 1970 637 MW 3,161,000 tons 32,373 tons 17
Shawville Clearfield Reliant Energy 1954, 1959, 1960 626 MW 3,107,000 tons 47,287 tons 7
Seward Indiana Reliant Energy 2004 585 MW 3,269,000 tons 18,531 tons N/A
Elrama Washington Reliant Energy 1952, 1953, 1954, 1960 510 MW 2,440,000 tons 4,675 tons N/A
Portland Northampton Reliant Energy 1958, 1962 427 MW 2,159,000 tons 30,685 tons 5
Sunbury Snyder Integrys 1949, 1951, 1953 425 MW 2,081,000 tons 45,297 tons N/A

These 14 plants represent 84.6% of Pennsylvania's coal energy generating capacity, 37.3% of the state's total CO2 emissions, and 65.6% of its total SO2 emissions.[5]

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

December 2009: Exelon announces plan to shut coal plants in Pennsylvania

On December 2, 2009, Exelon announced that it would retire Cromby Generating Station and two units at Eddystone Generating Station in 2011. The closures include 144 MW of coal-fired power at Cromby and another 588 MW at Eddystone. Eddystone will continue to operate 820 MW of natural gas- and oil-fired generation. Exelon senior vice president Doyle Beneby said the retirements were due to "decreased power demand, over supply of natural gas and increasing operating costs," adding that, "these aging units are no longer efficient enough to compete with newer resources."[52] The announcement comes just one day after Progress Energy said it would shut 11 aging coal-fired power units totaling almost 1,500 MW in North Carolina.[53]

United States Files Clean Air Act Complaint Against Homer City Power Plant

On January 11, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Clean Air Act complaint on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against the owners and operators of the Homer City Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Homer City, Indiana County, Pa.

According to the complaint filed by the EPA, beginning in 1990 operators of the Homer City Power Plant violated the Clean Air Act New Source Review requirements by making major modifications to the boiler units at the power plant and continuing to operate without first obtaining appropriate permits and installing and operating the best available pollution control technologies to reduce sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.

In addition, the complaint alleged that the plant operators had not disclosed the plant’s major modifications, the need for best available control technologies, nor the appropriate emissions limits in their request for a Title V operating permit from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. Also, the defendants’ Title V permit did not include the required limits on emissions that would be achieved using the best available pollution control technologies.[54]

Proposed coal unit closures

On February 29, 2012, GenOn Energy said it will close seven of its coal generating stations by 2015 (and a natural gas station for a total 13 percent of its generating capacity), citing impending environmental regulations. The coal stations and proposed closing dates are:[55]

Major coal mines

As of 2010 there were approximately 240 active coal mines in Pennsylvania with production of approximately 58,593 short tons per year.[56]

Below is a list of major coal mines in Pennsylvania. For a more complete list, click here.

Mine Name Location Owner 2006 Production
Enlow Fork Mine West Finley, PA CONSOL Energy 10,703,000 tons
Bailey Mine Claysville, PA CONSOL Energy 10,175,000 tons
Cumberland Mine Waynesburg, PA Foundation Coal 7,516,000 tons
Emerald Mine No 1 Waynesburg, PA Foundation Coal 5,922,000 tons
Blacksville Number 2 Mine Brave, PA CONSOL Energy 5,039,000 tons


Citizen groups



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  14. State Coal Profiles, Energy Information Administration, pp. 79-86 - cached copy at
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  29. Fact Sheet: Coal Combustion Residues (CCR) - Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings, Environmental Protection Agency, June 2009.
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  53. Progress Energy
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  57. Major U.S. Coal Mines, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.


Existing coal plants in Pennsylvania

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