Coal

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Coal contributed 35 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2005, according to the EIA. Aside from releasing harmful carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, the use of coal as a fuel has been known to damage the environment in the United States in other ways. The methods used to extract coal from the ground, for example, have been criticized for their environmental hazards. When seams, or layers, of coal are near the surface, coal is extracted by strip, or surface, mining, by which an open pit or strip is used to expose and extract the coal. Strip mining generally devalues the land through which it passes. When coal seams are deeply underground, supports are usually used to hold up the roof of the coal mine, and a deep cavity is dug, into which the coal can collapse. Historically deep underground mining has involved dangerous mine roof collapses, explosions, and exposure to lung-damaging gases. In addition, all forms of coal mining have been criticized for their tendency to leave behind heaps of coal, sometimes having a high sulfu-ric content. Nearby bodies of water can become contaminated with acidic, toxic metal-rich runoff from these coal heaps. In 2006 coal accounted for 23 percent of total energy consumption in the United States, and it was mostly used in power plants to generate electricity.

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