U.S. Coal Plants Cause Deadly Pollution

Coal is a dirty energy provider. A new report by the Sierra Club found that particulate pollution from the Parish coal plant in Texas kills 109 people annually, which makes it the eighth most deadly coal plant in the U.S. The plant emitted 29,000 tons of sulfur dioxide pollution in 2019, the third most of all U.S. coal plants. Sulfur dioxide forms soot. 

“The people of Southeast Texas carry the immense burden of air pollution created by Parish and numerous additional sources,” said Bryan Parras, a Healthy Communities campaign representative for the Sierra Club, in a statement. “Yet the state of Texas, and the EPA, continue to let wealthy industrial corporations harm our residents for no other reason than profit. We need stronger rules from federal regulators and state leaders who are fed up with the myth that this industry is in any way good for our people.”

Seventy percent of the people the Parish coal plant kills annually live in Texas, and most live in Harris County. The fourth-highest rate of total coal-related deaths of all counties in the U.S. is in Harris County. The pollution from the Parish coal plant causes deaths in other states. NRG Energy owns and operates the coal plant. NRG is one of the most deadly independent power producers in the U.S. People of color are more affected by soot pollution from NRG than any other utility parent company in the country. NRG’s coal plants exposed Latinos to 98 percent more soot pollution and Black Americans to 40 percent more particulate pollution than white Americans. 

Coal Plants Cause Pollution Across the U.S.

The remaining fleet of coal power plants in the U.S. accounts for 3,800 premature deaths annually from particulate pollution. Ten percent of coal plants are super-polluters accounting for over 50 percent of the deaths. An estimated 15 parent utility companies own half of the remaining coal capacity and are responsible for over 60 percent of premature deaths from coal particulate pollution. Owned by the federal government, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is the deadliest parent company. 

Coal plant smokestacks emit sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air. The pollution from the smokestacks can end up hundreds of miles away. Much of the eastern and central U.S. is affected by pollution. Only four percent of premature deaths occur in the same county as the plant. For example, Cook County in Illinois ties with Alleghany County in Pennsylvania for the most premature deaths from coal plants. However, Cook County is hundreds of miles away from large coal plants. The nearest coal plant is the Labadie plant, which is 332 miles away from Cook County. 

The Clean Air Act and Coal Plant Pollution

Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Act sets National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to protect Americans from harmful pollution. The EPA released a draft proposal in January 2023 to update the NAAQS for particulate matter. The draft would reduce the current annual exposure limit but does not address reducing emissions from power plants that cause particulate pollution

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheesemanhttp://www.justmeans.com/users/gina-marie-cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor about.me/gmcheeseman Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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