Coal is one of those necessary evils of the industrialized world. While it does provide plentiful and cheap energy, getting the coal often involves denuding the land with giant buckets. That's only the start of the damage.
I once attended a talk by an Ohio EPA official about the acidic lakes in the southeastern part of the state. Acid leaches out of the strip mines and gathers in low areas. The low areas are dammed off and the acidity builds and builds. The EPA guy talked about how they tried to remediate some of the acidic lakes. The lakes had pH values of 1. The EPA wasn't sure what to do so they started dumping lye, which has a pH of 13, into the lake neutralize the acid (water has a pH of 7). After dropping insane amounts of lye into the lake the best they could do was increase the pH to 2, which is still toxic to fish. They realized that adding so much lye to the lakes would be cost prohibitive, so their solution to reduce the acidity was to bit-by-bit drain each lake into the river system, hoping to do so slow enough that the acid would be diluted.
One unintended result of the Clean Air Act of 1970 was acid rain. To clean up air pollution near power plants power companies installed tall smokestacks which would then disperse pollutants over a wider area. No place did that better than the W. H. Sammis Power Plant along the Ohio River.
The plant is enormous. Rt 7 actually goes under it. The tall smoke stack is about 1000 feet high. It is also one of the greatest point sources of air pollution in the country. At one time the Sammis produced 60 percent as much air pollution in New York State as all of New York's 56 power plants combined. A third of all of New Jersey's air pollution came from the Sammis. That's why New York, New Jersey and Connecticut sued Ohio Edison in 1999. The settlement that was reached in 2005 means that the Stammis has to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 82 percent and nitrogen oxides by 42 percent by 2012. That would explain why there were so many construction cranes at the plant last fall.
Unrelated: On a happier note, Jen and Jake had a behind the scenes tour of the New York Public Library's main branch at 42nd St.