The amount of coal burning in the United States is expected to reach a record high in 2021, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warning that a record number of coal-fired power plants are expected to go offline in 2020.
According to the latest data from the Environmental Resources Management Office (ERMO), there are more than 50,000 coal-burning power plants operating in the country.
That means there are nearly 60 million tons of coal in the air and 1.6 million tons in storage, according to ERMO.
“We are seeing the impacts from climate change in the Appalachian coal country,” said ERMO spokesperson Chris McQuillan.
“The effects are not just the coal, but also the climate change that we are all seeing.
So when we talk about climate change, it’s not just about the coal.
It’s also about the CO2.”
There are three major coal-producing regions in the U.s.: Appalachian Basin (northwest of Washington), Appalachian State (southwest of Pittsburgh) and the Powder River Basin (east of Chicago).
All three are experiencing record temperatures this year, and ERMO has warned that they could lead to widespread coal fires in the future.
McQuillen explained that when coal is burned, it is a highly flammable material that can leach a lot of toxic substances like arsenic, mercury, arsenic nitrate, chromium and copper.
That’s why ERMO advises people to limit their exposure to coal dust, or at least not to wear long sleeves and hats indoors, as this can contribute to the development of lung diseases like coal-induced bronchitis.
While ERMO is forecasting that the coal-generated heat will continue to increase in 2020, it does warn that there are ways to reduce the coal fire risk.
“We are taking some steps to help reduce emissions,” McQuillin said.
“Those steps include reducing energy use, reducing the amount of air we burn, and improving the quality of air in our community.
If you live in a high-risk area, you can also reduce your carbon footprint by reducing your carbon dioxide emissions, so you are less likely to have a coal fire in your neighborhood.”
In 2018, there were a total of 7,500 coal-fueled power plants in the continental U.A. and 5,000 in the Powder.
McQuillin told us that the Appalachian region is experiencing a “record year,” with a record average annual rate of 4,000 tons of CO2 emitted per megawatt-hour (MWh) and a record year of 6,300 MWh of CO 2 released into the air.
Coal-fired plants have been a key part of the region’s economy for years, and the region has been dealing with coal ash pollution for the last four years.
McDonald, of the Appalachian Coal Association, noted that this year’s record year for CO2 releases was the highest in the region since 2009, when CO2 emissions hit a record level of 2.9 million tons per day.
“This year is really a record for coal and it will be a record this year,” McDonald said.
In 2018 and 2019, the coal ash from coal-burners exceeded a million tons, but this year is expected for a lower total.
The EPA estimates that about 4 million tons are emitted each day from coal plants.
“This is a big change for us because we have been seeing CO2 levels in the neighborhood of 300 ppm and it is up significantly,” McElroy said.
McElroy explained that the EPA estimates the amount CO2 released each day by coal plants is a “very small number” compared to what it will take to cause a significant increase in climate change.
“It’s a small number compared to how many people die because of coal,” he said.
In 2018 alone, the U,S.
emitted more than 2.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, according the EPA.