One of the biggest arguments against the coal industry involves how "dirty" coal is but one critic of that argument calls it a myth.
Sierra Club is one of the biggest critics of the coal industry, saying it contributes to everything from climate disruption – or climate change - to toxic water pollution and asthma. As a result, the club's Beyond Coal campaign has a countdown for the number of coal-burning power plants the Sierra Club wants to see retired.
On the other side of the argument is Terry Jarrett, attorney and former Missouri Public Service commissioner. He says the "myth" of dirty coal is, in fact, just a myth.
"We can all harken back to 30, 40 years ago," he says, "with the old-fashioned coal plants, so to speak, which were belching out a lot of smoke out of their smokestacks. And that is sort of what the green industry continues to try to portray coal as being."
But that is no longer true today, he insists, calling today's plants "very, very clean."
Sierra Club and like-minded entities may beg to differ but Jarrett says modern coal plants have lots of clean coal technologies.
"Technologies that scrub all kinds of pollutants and emissions out of the coal," he says, "before it goes up the smokestack."
Information found on the Department of Energy's website states the following:
Most modern power plants — and all plants built after 1978 — are required to have special devices installed that clean the sulfur from the coal's combustion gases before the gases go up the smokestack. The technical name for these devices is "flue gas desulfurization units," but most people just call them "scrubbers" — because they "scrub" the sulfur out of the smoke released by coal-burning boilers.
Today's coal plants also scrub emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and mercury, Jarrett adds. As a result, he says, the nation can continue to use coal, whereas Sierra Club wants alternative energy sources that supporters claim are more environmentally friendly.
In the meantime, coal was at the top of the list last year for sources of electricity generation in the U.S.