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Environ Health Perspect. 1980 June; 36: 135–153.
PMCID: PMC1637746
Contributed Articles

Report on health and environmental effects of increased coal utilization*

The Committee on Health and Environmental Effects of Increased Coal Utilization


The National Energy Plan announced by President Carter on April 29, 1977 proposed a significant increase in the utilization of the vast domestic deposits of coal to replace the dwindling supplies of oil and natural gas, and increasingly expensive oil from foreign sources, to meet national energy needs. At the same time, in recognition of possible adverse health and ecological consequences of increased coal production and use, the President announced that a special committee would be formed to study this aspect of the National Energy Plan.

The Committee held a series of public meetings during November and December 1977 to review a number of special papers on particular problems associated with increased coal utilization. These papers, which were prepared by scientists of the US Environmental Protection Agency; the Department of Energy; the HEW National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; New York University; and Vanderbilt University; provided essential background information for the deliberations of the Committee and were published in EHP Vol. 33, pp. 127–314, 1979. One paper by A. P. Altschuler et al. is published in this volume of EHP.

The Committee's basic finding was that it is safe to proceed with plans to increase the utilization of coal if the following environmental and safety policies are adhered to:

• Compliance with Federal and State air, water, and solid waste regulations

• Universal adoption and successful operation of best available control technology on new facilities

• Compliance with reclamation standards

• Compliance with mine health and safety standards

• Judicious siting of coal-fired facilities

The Committee concluded that, even with the best mitigation policies, there will be some adverse health and environmental effects from the dramatic increase in coal use. However, these will not impact all regions and individuals uniformly. The Committee identified six major areas of uncertainty and concern requiring further investigation if the nation is to minimize undesirable consequences of increased coal utilization now, and in the future. Two critical health issues of concern are air pollution health effects and coal mine worker health and safety. Two critical environmental issues are global effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and acid fallout. Two additional important issues of concern are trace elements in the environment and reclamation of arid land.

Finally, because of the inadequate data and methodology used in the study of these matters, the Committee strongly recommended the establishment of an improved national environmental data collection, modeling and monitoring system.

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