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Louisiana and coal

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Introduction

Coal production is a relatively minor part of the Louisiana economy. All of Louisiana's coal is lignite, and commercial production is based in the northwestern part of the state.[1] In 2004, the state produced approximately 3.8 million short tons of coal, worth approximately $75.8 million dollars, which ranked it 19th in the nation in coal production.[2]

Louisiana relies more heavily on natural gas than coal for power generation. In 2004, the state consumed close to 16 million short tons of coal for electrical power[2] to produce approximately 27 percent of its electricity. The state's average retail price of electricity is 8.3 cents per kilowatt hour, the 20th highest rate in the nation.[3] In 2003, Louisiana emitted 179 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, ranking it 10th in the nation overall.[4]

Citizen activism

Citizen Action Against John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant

On July 20, 2010 two environmental organizations asked a federal judge to halt construction of the $1.7 billion John W. Turk coal-fired power plant that is to supply power to electric customers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

The two groups, Audubon Arkansas and the Sierra Club said construction of the Southwestern Electric Power Co. plant was destroying pristine wetlands. Owners of a hunting club near the plant site sued previously to stop construction, also on environmental grounds.[5]

History

Lignite was discovered in Louisiana around 1812 and was used on a small scale to provide fuel for blacksmiths, steamboats, railroads, and domestic heating.[6] Underground mining efforts proved difficult because of the nature of the geological strata and a lack of markets to make the endeavor profitable. In the 1900s, Louisiana's oil and gas resources overtook any remaining interest in lignite deposits.[1]

Until the energy shortage of the 1970s, Louisiana relied predominantly on natural gas for power generation. In the early 1980s, Louisiana began buying large amounts of coal from other states for power generation, mainly from Wyoming, and in the mid 1980s began burning its own lignite.[1] The first coal-fired power plant was built in 1981.[6] The first permit for surface lignite mining was issued in 1983 for the Dolet Hills Lignite Mine in the DeSoto Parish, and commercial operation began in 1985. Four years later, the Oxbow Lignite Mine in Red River Parish began operating. By the 1990s the two mines were producing over 3 million tons of lignite per year,[7] and the percentage of the state's power generated by coal had increased from about 3.5% to over 35%.[6]

In the 1990s, the Louisiana government began to promote natural gas again as a means of stimulating job creation in its declining oil and gas industries. The state legislature passed a resolution in 1992 calling on the Louisiana Public Service Commission to research the feasibility of requiring new power plants to use natural gas and existing plants to convert to natural gas. However, cost estimates proved exorbitant, and the LSPC concluded that fuel choice should be focused on providing the lowest electricity rates for customers.[6]

Legislative issues

Proposed coal plants

Active

On hold

Abandoned

Citizen groups

Coal lobbying groups

Power companies

Existing coal plants

Louisiana is 31st in the nation in coal power generation, with 6 operating coal-fired power stations totaling 6,136 megawatts (MW).[8]

All of these 6 units are larger than 50MW.[9][10]

Plant Name Owner Capacity Year(s) Built
Dolet Hills Cleco 720MW 1986
Rodemacher Cleco 558MW 1982
R.S. Nelson Entergy 615MW 1982
Big Cajun 2 NRG Energy 1871MW 1981, 1982, 1983

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Coal Ash in Louisiana

Overview

Louisiana generates over 1.5 million tons of coal ash per year, ranking 25th in the nation for coal ash generation.

There are 11 ponds at three plants, none of which were ranked a “high” or “significant” hazard by the EPA. All of Louisiana’s ponds are at least 20 years old, the average age being 25.4 years.

The U.S. EPA has not yet gathered information on coal ash disposal in landfills, so a detailed breakdown is not yet available. However, according to a 2007 EPA risk assessment, the Dolet Hills Power Station has unlined surface impoundments and landfills. Four other surface impoundments and landfills in Louisiana are only clay‐lined; three of these sites do not have leachate control systems and one (Big Cajun 2) does not conduct any groundwater monitoring.

According to EPA data, there have been no historical releases at any of Louisiana’s ash ponds. [11]

Coal Ash Waste and Water Contamination

In August 2010 a study released by the Environmental Integrity Project, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice reported that Louisiana, along with 34 states, had significant groundwater contamination from coal ash that is not currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report, in an attempt to pressure the EPA to regulate coal ash, noted that most states do not monitor drinking water contamination levels near waste disposal sites.[12] The report mentioned Louisiana based Big Cajun II Power Plant, Dolet Hills Power Station and the Rodemacher Power Station were three sites that have groundwater contamination due to coal ash waste.[13]

Coal export terminals

Peabody Coal exports to Europe

On July 17, 2012, Peabody Energy announced that, under new agreements with Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, it would gain additional coal export capacity from Kinder Morgan's Deepwater Terminal and Houston Bulk Terminal in Texas, as well as increased access to the International Marine Terminal at Myrtle Grove, Louisiana, south of New Orleans.

The planned expansion would more than double Peabody's export capacity along the Gulf Coast to between 5 million and 7 million tons annually between 2014 and 2020. In 2011, Peabody shipped 6.6 million tons of coal through export terminals on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, and it has projected total exports of 10 million tons for 2012. Much of the coal being shipped from Texas and Louisiana will serve Peabody's European markets.

The company expects to begin shipping Colorado and Powder River Basin coal through the Houston terminal in 2014. Shipments of Colorado and Powder River Basin coal from Louisiana will begin around the same time, and Peabody will extend contracts at the Cora River terminal in Illinois to facilitate shipments of Illinois Basin coal for domestic and international markets.[14]

Reports

2011 EPA Inspector General report

A 2011 report by EPA’s inspector general Arthur Elkins found that Louisiana is among the worst states at enforcing federal clean air, clean water and hazardous waste laws, and the Environmental Protection Agency should either force Louisiana to do a better job, or enforce the laws itself. The report does not spotlight specific environmental problems, focusing instead on a "broad failure" to carry out required inspections and cite violators. It concludes that the weak enforcement might be driven in part by “a culture in which the state agency is expected to protect industry.”

Citizen groups have frequently targeted the state agency charged with enforcing federal environmental laws: the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. One complaint against DEQ in 2001 triggered a comprehensive audit by the EPA, resulting in major changes in state enforcement. But even with the changes, Louisiana ranks so low compared with other states in the percentage of major facilities inspected, the number of violations found at those facilities, and the frequency in which the state issued a penalty for violations that the inspector general’s office highlighted it in the new report.[15]

Coal mines

Click here for a list of coal mines in Louisiana.

As of 2010 there were approximately 2 active coal mines in Louisiana with production of approximately 3,945 short tons per year.[16]

Resources

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 State Coal Profiles: Louisiana, Energy Information Administration, January 1994.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mining in Louisiana, National Mining Association, accessed June 2008.
  3. "The Facts", America's Power, accessed June 2008.
  4. "Texas, Wyoming lead in emissions", USA Today, June 2, 2007.
  5. "Sierra Club, Audubon sue to stop SWEPCO plant" Business Week, July 19, 2010.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Coal and Lignite in Louisiana, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, May 14, 1993.
  7. History of Lignite Development in Louisiana, Louisiana Office of Conservation, October 10, 2006.
  8. Existing U.S. Coal Plants
  9. Power Plants in Louisiana, Powerplantjobs.com, accessed June 2008.
  10. Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration website, accessed May 2008.
  11. "Louisiana Coal Ash Factsheet" Earthjustice, accessed December 12, 2011.
  12. "Study of coal ash sites finds extensive water contamination" Renee Schoff, Miami Herald, August 26, 2010.
  13. "Enviro groups: ND, SD coal ash polluting water" Associated Press, August 24, 2010.
  14. Daniel Cusick,"Peabody to boost exports from Gulf Coast as Pacific Northwest terminal plans stall," ClimateWire, July 18, 2012.
  15. Mark Schleifstein, "Louisiana flunks at enforcing air, water laws, EPA inspector general says" The Times-Picayune, Dec. 12, 2011.
  16. "Coal Production and Number of Mines by State, County, and Mine Type, 2010" U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 2010.

Maps

Existing coal plants in Louisiana

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