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Sierra Club: Beyond Coal (Photo Essay)

[caption id="attachment_126520" align="alignright" width="300"]Nevada: ''The coal business is archaic,'' said Moapa Paiute tribal member Vernon Lee. ''It was good for the past, but it doesn't fit with the future. It's polluting, and it's polluting some more, and it's polluting some more beyond that. And unfortunately, this tribe is in direct line of fire.''[/caption] To bring awareness to the unintended consequences of burning coal for energy, and the need to stop new plants from being built, the Sierra Club produced a slideshow of startling images from three big coal states. Here's a sample.

West Virginia

Mountaintop-removal mines in Appalachia have demolished an estimated 1.4 million acres of forested hills, buried an estimated 2,000 miles of streams, poisoned drinking water, and wiped whole towns from the map. Lindytown, West Virginia, once home to dozens of families, is now an isolated, lonely place, with only one original family remaining; everyone else sold out to Massey Energy (now Alpha Natural Resources), which was laying waste to a nearby mountain. West of Lindytown, a mountaintop-removal mine caused the population of Blair to fall from 700 people in the 1990s to fewer than 50 today, according to the Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance.


For generations, people in River Rouge, Michigan, have lived within sniffing distance of a coal-fired power plant, an oil refinery, a sewage-treatment plant, a steel mill, and other industrial polluters. No studies have precisely measured the cumulative health impacts of those operations on nearby residents, but in 2004 the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force calculated that particulate pollution from coal combustion at the River Rouge Power Plant alone (one of nearly 400 coal-fired plants still in operation nationwide) is annually responsible for 44 deaths, 72 heart attacks, and 700 asthma attacks in the surrounding community.


Since 1965 the coal-fired Reid Gardner Generating Station, about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas, has dumped its combustion waste into uncovered "ponds" beside the Moapa Band of Paiutes Reservation. Tribal members believe that the coal ash—which contains mercury, arsenic, selenium, and other toxins and blows into their village in dust storms—has caused asthma attacks, cancer, heart disease, and many premature deaths among the 200 residents there. More than 1,100 coal-ash sites exist nationwide; none is subject to federal regulation. Click through to see the slide show.  [gallery] To see the rest of the images and the full campaign, click here. Image credit: Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures
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