Coal-Free New England 2020

CLF is working to make New England coal free by 2020. Although widely perceived to be one of the cheapest ways to produce electricity, burning coal exacts a heavy cost on the environment, public health and, increasingly, New England’s economy.

Coal is the most carbon-intensive source of electricity. In New England, emissions from coal-fired power plants make up a disproportionate share of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Scientists and energy experts have concluded that the rapid phase out of coal is required to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, a threat of particular concern in New England.

Coal plants are also a major source of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, two elements of a fine pollutant known as particulate matter, which is a serious health hazard. The American Lung Association reports that even short-term exposure to particulate matter can be deadly. The pollutants that rain down from coal-fired power plants cause a panoply of health problems, including heart attacks, asthma attacks, developmental delays in infants and children, hospitalizations, and even premature deaths. Communities that live in the shadow of these power plants are often economically disadvantaged and must bear the additional burden of lost wages due to illness and increased health care costs.

Coal plants drag down New England’s economy as well. Every year, we send more than a half-billion dollars out of our region to buy coal from such far-flung places as Colombia and Indonesia. We also spend huge sums to keep our aging fleet of coal plants in operation, an example of throwing good money after bad. To make matters worse, investment in old coal dwarfs the amount we spend on energy efficiency and renewable energy development – investments that create local jobs and new sources of revenue. Finally, old coal is a foolish investment. As stricter environmental regulations take effect and with natural gas prices to remain low for several years, the old coal plants will no longer be economically viable. They will pass along their inflated costs to ratepayers, lay off workers, and contribute less and less to the tax bases of their host communities.

The price of burning coal is simply too high to justify its continued use. CLF is continuing to pursue clean energy and transmission alternatives that will allow for a responsible phase out of coal from New England’s energy mix, while exploiting old coal’s vulnerabilities to bring a more rapid demise to offending power plants. Creating a coal-free New England by 2020 is an ambitious but achievable goal, one that is vital to protecting the people and the resources of New England.