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Pennsylvania's Dirty Energy Legacy...
For general environmental ranking information on Pennsylvania, see our Pennsylvania: #1 In All The Wrong Things page.
  • Pennsylvania is the nation's largest exporter of electricity, suffering disproportionate environmental damage by generating far more power than the state consumes.[1] Pennsylvania is third behind Texas and Florida in electricity production.[2]

  • The U.S. nuclear power, coal and oil industries all got their start in Pennsylvania, leaving behind a legacy of damage. [3]

Nuclear Power

  • The first commercial nuclear power plant in the world began operating in Shippingport, PA, on December 2, 1957. [4]
  • The worst commercial nuclear accident in U.S. history was the meltdown at Three Mile Island's Unit 2 near Harrisburg, PA in 1979.[5]
  • Pennsylvania has the 2nd highest number of commercial nuclear reactors in the country (11 total: 9 operating, 1 shut down, 1 melted down), following Illinois.[6] Consequently, Pennsylvania is #2 in generation of electricity from nuclear power [7] and is one of the top states in the generation of nuclear waste.[8]
  • The highest levels of Strontium-90 (a radioactive pollutant released from operating nuclear reactors) found in baby teeth has been found in southeastern Pennsylvania - an area surrounded by several nuclear reactors.[9]


  • The first major coal mining operations in the U.S. were in eastern Pennsylvania's anthracite region, where 97 percent of the country's anthracite coal reserves (the type of coal with the highest heating value, containing 86-97% carbon) is found in 9 counties of northeastern Pennsylvania.[10, 11] Until 1854, more than half of all the coal that was produced in the U.S. was Pennsylvania anthracite.[12]
  • Pennsylvania is being targeted with a proposal for the nation's first coal-to-oil refinery, to be located in Schuylkill County.
  • Pennsylvania is also home to extensive bituminous coal mining in the central and western parts of the state.[11] Before 1977, when Congress passed the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), Pennsylvania had produced one-third of all coal mined in the United States.[13]
  • Pennsylvania is tied with Illinois and Indiana for the highest number of coal-fired power plants (23) of any state.[14]
  • Pennsylvania has more power plants burning waste coal than any other state (waste coal is far dirtier than normal coal). There are 14 existing waste coal burners and at least 4 more proposed. About half of the nation's waste coal burners are in Pennsylvania and most of those outside of Pennsylvania burn waste coal as a secondary, not their primary, fuel.[15]
  • Pennsylvania is now 4th in coal production (following Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky).[16, 17]
  • Pennsylvania is also 4th in power produced from coal burning (following Texas, Ohio and Indiana).[18]

    Abandoned Mines and Subsidence

  • Pennsylvania has one-third of all the abandoned mine-related problems in the country, more than any other state in the nation.[19] Pennsylvania is home to over 250,000 acres of abandoned surface mines.[13] Abandoned mines, coal refuse banks, old mine shafts and other relics of past mining exist in 45 of our 67 counties.[20]
  • Approximately 200,000 acres of land throughout Pennsylvania are prone to subsidence, a type of shifting in the ground caused when mines collapse, that can crack homes' foundations, redirect streams, damage roads and more.[17]
  • Pennsylvania is home to 90% of the country's mine-related hazardous and explosive gas problems and half of its hazardous water bodies.[21]

    Acid Mine Drainage

  • The single biggest water pollution problem facing Pennsylvania is polluted water draining from abandoned coal mining operations. Over half of the streams that don't meet water quality standards -- more than 2,400 miles of the state's 54,000 miles of streams -- don't meet standards because of mine drainage.[20, 17]
  • Pennsylvania is the worst state in the U.S. for acid mine drainage.[19]

    Mine Fires

  • The world-famous Centralia mine fire in northeast Pennsylvania has been burning for over 40 years (since May 1962). Pennsylvania is currently the site of 94% of the remaining underground mine fires in the U.S. As of 2002, there were 49 mine fires currently burning here -- some burning for as long as 10-30 years.[21] The Percy mine fire in Youngstown, PA has been burning for more than 30 years.[22] In addition to the underground mine fires, 100 million cubic yards of burning coal refuse continue to burn.[19, 23]


  • Pennsylvania is #1 in releases of mercury pollution from coal and oil-fired power plants. In 2001, these power plants reported releasing the 3rd highest amount of mercury pollution into the air (behind Texas and Ohio), the 2nd highest amount to waterways (behind Kentucky), the highest amount to land, and the most mercury overall.[24] Reliant Energy's Keystone Power Plant in Armstrong County releases more mercury than any other power plant in the nation (1,800 pounds of mercury in 2001).[25]
  • Pennsylvania is one of 19 states with a statewide fish consumption advisory due to mercury contamination. Pennsylvania is one of only 3 states where the general population is asked to restrict their consumption of all types of fish from any body of water in the state.[26]
  • The highest level of mercury measured in the rain in the U.S. and Canada was in 2001 in Cambria County, PA. On average, Pennsylvania ranked third-highest for mercury contamination among the 13 states studied between 1997 and 2002.[27]

    Other Pollution

  • In 2002, Pennsylvania was #2 in sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions; #6 in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, #4 in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from electric utilities. Pennsylvania tied with Florida for 2nd place (behind Texas) for the greatest number of "dirty" coal plants (power plants with excessive emissions above and beyond the levels they'd have if pollution controls were installed).[28]
  • In 2001, Pennsylvania's coal and oil-fired power plants reported releasing 59,026,821 pounds of toxic pollution into the air and 76,491,861 pounds of total toxic releases, ranking 3rd highest behind North Carolina and Ohio. These utilities reported more toxic chemicals being contained and transfered to other communities (11,668,996 pounds) than any other state.[29]
  • In 2001, Pennsylvania's coal and oil-fired power plants reported releasing 176.57 grams of dioxin pollution into the air, more than any other state.[30] The Cambria Cogen power plant in Cambria County (a waste coal burner) releases more dioxins than any other fossil-fueled power plant in the nation.
  • In 2001, Pennsylvania's coal mining industry reported releasing more toxic air emissions (52,968 pounds) than any other state except West Virginia and Kentucky.[31]

    Acid Rain

  • Pennsylvania has the second worst acid rain in the country.[32]


  • Pennsylvania's 5 operating municipal waste incinerators burn more trash (and industrial waste) than any state except Florida, New York and Massachusetts.[33]
  • In addition to Pennsylvania's record-setting dioxin air pollution from coal plants (176.57 grams in 2001), approximately 50 grams of dioxin are released annually by Pennsylvania's five trash incinerators. A sixth trash incinerator (in Harrisburg) has released as much as 2,613 grams per year of dioxin (the largest dioxin air polluter in the nation) until being shut down in June 2003 (the City of Harrisburg is trying to build a new incinerator in its place).[34]
  • On top of the very high mercury emissions from Pennsylvania's fossil-fueled power plants (7,427 pounds in 2001), the state's trash incinerators release about another 1,000 pounds of mercury a year.[35]
  • Only 3 states (California, Illinois and Michigan) burn more landfill gas than Pennsylvania, which releases unknown and unmonitored quantities of dioxins and other toxic combustion by-products into the air.[36]


  1. US DOE Energy Information Administration, as reported on on 4/13/20001; 2000 data.
  2. US DOE Energy Information Administration, 2003 data through Aug.
  3. Introduction to Oil History, by Samuel T. Pees ( and Drake Well Museum, Titusville, PA (
  4. Federation of American Scientists, Intelligence Resource Program.
  5. TMIA-2 melted on March 18, 1979.
  6. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and US DOE Energy Information Administration. Pennsylvania has 9 reactor units at 5 sites. Illinois has 11 units at 6 sites. and
  7. US DOE Energy Information Administration, 2002 and Jan-Oct 2003 data.
  8. So-called "low-level" nuclear waste includes all radioactive waste from nuclear reactors except for the irradiated fuel rods themselves. Pennsylvania is the 2nd to 4th highest state in the amount of this waste that is generated and disposed of (most of which is shipped to a leaking nuclear waste dump in a poor, minority community in Barnwell, South Carolina). According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's website, Pennsylvania is #2 behind Tennessee: According to the U.S. Department of Energy's "1998 State-by-State Assessment of Low-Level Radioactive Wastes Received at Commercial Disposal Sites" report, Pennsylvania ranks #4 behind Georgia, New York and Illinois for the amount (measured by radioactivity, not volume) of waste disposed of between 1994 and 1998:
  9. Mangano, et al., "An unexpected rise in strontium-90 in US deciduous teeth in the 1990s," The Science of The Total Environment, Volume 317, Issues 1-3, 30 December 2003, Pages 37-51. For more information on the Tooth Fairy Project, which has been studying radioactivity in baby teeth, visit the Radiation and Public Health Project website at
  10. Lauver, Fred, "A Walk Through the Rise and Fall of Anthracite Might," Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine, Volume XXVII, Number 1- Winter 2001.
    US DOE Energy Information Administration, National Energy Information Center.
  11. PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, "Distribution of Pennsylvania Coals."
  12. Stefan Hristov Boshkov, "Mining," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004.
  13. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
  14. US Environmental Protection Agency, 2002 data.
  15. Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy, "Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States by State, Company and Plant, 2002." The information on waste coal being dirtier than normal coal is at
  16. "Top 10 Coal-Producing States," Coal Age, May 1, 2002.
  17. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
  18. US DOE Energy Information Administration, 2002 and Jan-Oct 2003 data.
  19. Hess, David and Robert Dolence, Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Mining, PA House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, June 24, 1997.
  20. Rossman, Wytovich, Seif, "Abandoned Mines: Pennsylvania’s Single Biggest Water Pollution Problem," January 21, 1997.
  21. Dan Simon, "The ground is burning," Green Works Radio, July 15, 2002.
  22. "Stop the coal fires burning," Mining Environmental Management, Feb 17, 2003.
    Kerkstra, Patrick, "Unquenchable coal fires creep ever onward," Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug 4, 2002.
    Environmental News Service, "Hidden Coal Fires Create Visible Problems," February 14, 2003.
  23. PA Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Mineral Resource Management, "DEP Suggests Ways to Ease Mining’s Impact on Water Quality," June 27, 1997.
  24. US EPA, Toxic Release Inventory, 2001 data.
  25. Hopey, Don, "State DEP chief calls federal plan for mercury controls a 'disaster'," Pittsburgh Post Gazette, December 16, 2003.
  26. Corrigan, Zachary, "Fishing for Trouble," US PIRG, 2003.
  27. Erdley, Debra, "Report shows high mercury levels in rain," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 30, 2003.
  28. Wu, Brandon, "Lethal Legacy: A Comprehensive Look at America’s Dirtiest Power Plants," PennEnvironment, 2003.
  29. US EPA, Toxic Release Inventory, 2001 data.
  30. US EPA, Toxic Release Inventory, 2001 data.
  31. US EPA, Toxic Release Inventory, 2001 data.
  32. Acid rain ranking is based on annual laboratory pH data from 2003 from the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP). According to field pH samples, Pennsylvania is still in 2nd place, however trailing Ohio rather than West Virginia.
  33. Recycling Advocates of Middle Tennessee, "U.S. Municipal Waste Incinerators Likely to Burn Past 2001," Aug 30, 2001.
  34. PA Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Air Quality, Section 111(D)/129 State Plan for Large Municipal Waste Combustors (MWCs), 1997 data.
  35. PA Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Air Quality, Section 111(D)/129 State Plan for Large Municipal Waste Combustors (MWCs), 1997 data.
  36. US EPA, Landfill Methane Outreach Program, LMOP database, Nov 2003.
    PA totals 73.7 MW of LFG power.

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Last modified: 22 December 2005

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