Factories and power plants have started using coal again, despite the fact that it can emit particles that contribute to lung and heart diseases and also emits greenhouse gases. One reason is the upcoming oil shortage, but another is homeland security. Coal is mined right here in the U.S. and does not have to be imported from hostile Middle Eastern countries.

Mark Clayton writes in the Christian Science Monitor that 94 new coal-fired electric power plants, enough to power 62 million American homes, are being planned for 36 states. Robert McIlvaine, who tracks energy industry development, says, “The situation has changed 180 degrees in the last year, so that we’re almost back to point where we were in the 1970s with a slew of coal-fired plants on the drawing board. It’s become a flood. We’ve been getting a new one announced almost every week since December.”

Environmentalists have been surprisingly slow to protest about these new sources of pollution, perhaps because some of their major organizations are in the midst of major power struggles. Dan Baker of the Sierra Club says, “That’s an awful lot more coal to burn. I think most Americans would be shocked that utilities are dragging the 19th century into the 21st century.”

Local governments have been taken by surprise as well. Illinois, with 10 proposed new plants, has more coal-fired power plants planned than any other state. Rishi Garg, energy policy adviser to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, says, “?I personally wasn’t aware it was nine or 10 plants.”

Laura Hunter, of for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, says, “We’ve got vast coal resources, so we’ve been openly very supportive of coal and we’ve promoted it.”

Most consumers haven?t heard about this trend either. Gerald Heinrich first heard about the new coal-fired power plant proposed for Elwood, Illinois, when Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced plans for it in April. It will have 495-foot smokestacks that will be just eight miles from his home and right next to the first federally designated tall-grass prairie preserve. He says, “It was a total shock to everyone. It was done in a way to keep it secret, to make sure it was a done deal when it became public.”

Coal already generates about half the nation’s electricity, which already produce more airborne mercury and greenhouse gases than any other source. Climatolgist Robert Dickinson says, “It doesn’t sound as bad as SUVs, but we really should be going the other direction. All these little things add up. How much is east Asia going to add? The rest of the world?”

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