Sierra Student Coalition warns of coal's impact on water

After pressuring UNC to pledge to end using coal by May 2020, the UNC Sierra Student Coalition is continuing to educate students about the impact of coal on the environment.

The coalition, UNC’s chapter of the national Sierra Club, teamed with Appalachian Voices to present an information session Tuesday night on the effects of coal on water sources. About 25 people attended.

“Water is crucial. Big coal is trying to dismantle the laws that keep this crucial resource clean,” said Sandra Diaz, Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina campaign coordinator, which is a nonprofit environmental group that focuses on the impact of coal in the southern Appalachian region.

Diaz brought the issue close to home by showing the process of extracting and processing coal at the L.V. Sutton Power Station in Wilmington through Google Earth animations.

“Coal is going away and (the industry) has to use more and more destructive techniques to get to it,” she said.

The main danger Diaz highlighted was the mountaintop removal method.

Diaz said the method blows the tops off of mountains using explosives. Companies then legally dump the leftover rubble into valleys, where it can contaminate nearby bodies of water with substances such as mercury.

The Sierra Student Coalition has been trying to highlight the dangers of these methods to UNC through its Beyond Coal campaign, which is trying to require the University to no longer invest endowment funds in coal companies.

The coalition has collected around 2,400 student signatures on a petition and hopes to get 4,000 by the end of the semester, said freshman Jasmine Ruddy, the petition coordinator.

Robert Corriher, events coordinator for the coalition, said the group is also attempting to set up a meeting with Chancellor Holden Thorp.

The rest of the talk focused on taking political action and encouraging students to voice their concerns about coal.

“Politicians need to hear from people and they have not heard enough yet,” said Diaz.

Sophomore Jessica Peacock attended the talk for extra credit in her geology class, but felt she came away with much more.

“It made me realize that while it may be cheap to burn coal, it is costing us so much more environmentally and for the people living around these areas,” Peacock said.

The coalition’s petition is exactly what Diaz sees as necessary for change in coal use, and a way to move forward, she said.

“You all are the future, literally, and you are the ones that are going to help this planet.”

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