Train cars loaded with coal stretching into the distance with trees on both sides.

Report counts deadly impacts of coal-fired power plants

© iStock - Satephoto
Eric Galatas

(Wyoming News Service) Thousands of lives are cut short every year because of air pollution from coal-fired power plants in Wyoming and across the United States, according to a new Sierra Club report.

Rob Joyce, energy organizer for the Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club, said harmful toxins released from burning coal have been linked to a number of health issues, including increased asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and in severe cases can contribute to an increase in heart attacks and premature deaths over time.

"The report also shows that while those living closest to the coal plants typically bear the worst impacts, once those pollutants are in the air they can travel long distances, and impact communities hundreds of miles away," Joyce explained.

Researchers found pollution from America's coal-fired power plants is responsible for 3,800 premature deaths a year.

The report listed PacifiCorp's Jim Bridger facility, operating since the 1970s in southwest Wyoming, as among the nation's most deadly. PacifiCorp has said it will continue operating two of the site's four units at lower capacities to reduce pollution levels, until they are converted to natural gas as early as this year. The other two units will go offline in 2037.

Joyce acknowledged while the transition away from coal-fired electricity will be good for public health, it added economic uncertainty to communities and state agencies deeply tied to the old fossil fuel economy.

"We need to be creative in our approach to prepare for these changes so that families can sustain themselves," Joyce stated. "And also so that the land, water and wildlife that everyone in Wyoming really values can continue to be enjoyed by everyone."

Just 18% of premature deaths from coal occur in the state where the power plants are located, and Wyoming is among the nation's top five exporters of coal-fired air pollution. Joyce added the report exposes just how dangerous the continued use of coal is for communities, public health and the climate crisis.

"The bottom line is that a transition to clean, renewable energy is not only good for combating climate change, but it will also immediately improve public health and save lives," Joyce contended.