By Tom Pelton
ichard White drives up to a cemetery on a
ridge above the coal-washing plant in
Boone County, West Virginia, where he worked
for 33 years. He points to the graves of his
father and father-in-law, also miners.
All around, hillsides have been sheared. A
mountain has been cleared of trees and
dynamited. Down the road in Lindytown,
the windows of abandoned homes are
shattered and doors hang open. The setting sun illuminates what
looks like a golden cloud
streams. The burning of coal to generate
electricity is a major source of mercury pollution, which contaminates fish in the Bay
and many of its tributaries.
Nitrogen oxide air pollution from smokestacks and vehicles contributes nitrogen
pollution in the nation’s largest estuary,
which feeds algal blooms and low-oxygen
All this sickness and death is expensive,
costing about $42 billion a year, according to Hendryx’s paper Mortality in
Appalachian Coal Mining Regions: The Value
of Statistical Life Lost published in the U.S.
Public Health Service’s journal. His bottom line: Coal mining is actually five
times more expensive to the region’s economy than the financial gain, if public
health costs are considered.
“You see all the dust in the
air up here?” he asks.
Richard has a good reason to
be worried about coal dust.
He has black lung disease, as did his father
and father-in-law. “They would actually
cough up pieces of their lungs, with big
handfuls of dust, because their lungs were
deteriorating,” he said.
These are among the reasons CBF is
fighting to prevent the construction of a
1500-megawatt coal-fired power plant
proposed in Dendron, Virginia, not far from
the southern Bay. The Old Dominion
Electric Cooperative is proposing to use
central Appalachian bituminous coal to
fuel the plant. That means it would run on
the backs of West Virginia miners like
Dr. Hendryx said the construction of the Dendron
power plant would only
make life harder on people
like Richard White, who
live in mining communities, as well as people in
Virginia who would suffer
from the plant’s air pollution.
Let’s say it bluntly: Pollution from
coal-fired power plants kills people.
— DR. MICHAEL HENDRYX, DIRECTOR OF THE RURAL HEALTH
RESEARCH CENTER AT WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY
He gazed around him at the devastation
caused by mountaintop coal mining, and
then added this: “If we could put a man on
the moon, we can come up with alternative
sources for energy.”
“Let’s say it bluntly: Pollution from coal-
fired power plants kills people,” Dr.
Hendryx said. “If we started investing more
seriously in alternatives like solar, wind,
hydro, and geothermal energies, it would
be healthier for the people, better for the
environment, and we could still provide
the power we need to run our economy.”
Although this miner’s call for clean energy
may sound like it’s coming a long way from
the Chesapeake Bay, in reality, coal casts a
long shadow over the Bay and its rivers and
Dr. Michael Hendryx, Director of the Rural
Health Research Center at West Virginia
University, calculated that coal mining con-
tributes up to 10,000 premature deaths a
year across the Appalachian states.
Tom Pelton is Senior Writer
for CBF. His award-winning
blog on current Chesapeake
Bay issues can be found at