No End to Coal's Nightmare Before Christmas

Since the first coal-fired power plant ash pollution spill in Tennessee right before Christmas and continuing through the second coal ash spill last Friday in Alabama, a huge amount of media and lawmaker attention has been devoted to the latest reminders that there is no such thing as "clean coal."

In the last few days, we've seen "Exposing the Myth of Clean Coal Power," a major article in Time magazine, and "Pool of Trouble:  A toxic sludge spill in Tennessee could have been avoided," a hard-hitting editorial in the Washington Post calling for more federal oversight of toxic waste from dirty power plants.

Given all the nails being driven into the coffin of the "clean coal" myth, it may seem hard to believe that the developments in Tennessee and Alabama have actually overshadowed a considerable amount of additional bad news for "clean coal" boosters.   But that is exactly what has happened!

In reverse chronological order going back to the dawn of the New Year, here are some the lesser-known "lowlights" for the coal industry:

  • "King Coal" abdicates. In one of those sneaky Friday afternoon news releases that companies issue when they have bad -- or, in this case, embarrassing -- news, Dynegy announced on January 2, 2008 that it was no longer eager to be known as the "new King of Coal." As the Houston Chronicle editorialized on January 10th: "After signaling that it was aggressively pursuing new coal-fired power plant projects that would have made it one of the major builders of the controversial carbon generators, Houston-based Dynegy has made a welcome change of course. The company kicked off the new year with the announcement that it was dissolving a 2-year-old joint venture with New York-based LS Power Associates, ending its participation in at least five planned coal-fueled facilities around the country that would have produced an estimated 30 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. The move brought cheers from environmental groups that had protested Dynegy's involvement in a new generation of plants they contended would exacerbate global warming caused by industrial carbon dioxide emissions and intensify health-threatening pollution in surrounding communities."  Environmentalists weren't the only ones who cheered. Dynegy stock shot up 19% after the announcement, signaling Wall Street's lack of confidence in new coal plants. Even though Dynegy's Partner, LS Power says it will press on with its controversial Ely, Nevada plant, it's clearly on much shakier ground than it was before.

Hard to believe that New Year is less than two weeks old and already the coal industry is buried under this much bad news!