WyoFile Energy Report

Burning coal in your home is not a good idea

— December 28, 2012
— Updated December 31, 2012

While most of us are warm and toasty this holiday season, there are others shivering inside their homes because they cannot afford propane or to pay their utility bill.

Dustin Bleizeffer

This morning I received an email from a person who was worried about friends on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation who might be freezing. She wrote, “I have Indian friends on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southern South Dakota who are freezing and they wanted to come to Gillette or another city you may recommend and bring their own pickup trucks and get some coal donated to their tribe.”

After a series of calls I can recommend that anyone on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in need of energy assistance should contact the Oglala Sioux Tribal Low Income Energy Office at (605) 867-5169, or Tribal Headquarters, (605) 867-5821, or contact their tribal council representative. Unfortunately, if there’s an immediate need, now is an extremely difficult time to get ahold of officials. But don’t give up.

As for donating coal to help keep people warm in their homes; it’s not a good idea. I know, I know; people have been burning coal to stay warm since the beginning of mankind. Poor communities all over the world burn coal or charcoal for heat and cooking. An estimated 3 billion people worldwide rely on “solid fuels,” including coal and wood, according to the World Health Organization. And about 2 million die prematurely each year due to indoor air pollution from solid fuels.

Cooking food with coal causes people to ingest a long list of deadly toxins, including mercury.

This morning I contacted Joe Red Cloud, coordinator for the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s utilities department, and he said it’s been many, many years since he’s heard of residents burning coal in their homes to stay warm.

“Most homes on the reservation are heated by propane or electric,” he said. “If they can’t afford it, they can approach the tribe’s energy office and get fuel from them.”

While I’m certain that many folks in northeastern Wyoming are eager to help, it might not be in the form of coal. In fact, if you have advice on how folks can get some immediate assistance with staying warm this weekend, please let me know.

— UPDATE (Monday December 31, 2012): Today I spoke with Garry Rowland, Headsman of the Fire Lightning Tiospaye in Wounded Knee, South DakotaHe explained that many tribal members who live in government housing on the reservation have access to energy assistance, and their homes are typically heated with propane. Others who live out in the country, however, have limited access to energy assistance. Rowland said he’s coordinating help, and wants to hear from people who can donate wood so he can help get it to households in need.

You can contact Rowland at (605) 407-7024, email him at growland2000@yahoo.com, or send a letter to; Garry Rowland, PO Box 208, Wounded Knee, SD, 57794

— Contact Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile editor-in-chief at dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer.

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Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. I live in the northeast and have been burning coal for 32 years in our coal stove that sits right in our living room. I light it on Thanksgiving and it never goes out until spring. We have no dust or any problems what so ever. Coal is awesome, it costs me about 4 to 5 hundred dollars a year to heat my 2000 sq. ft. house.

  2. Brad,
    I agree that it’s probably safe to burn coal in stoves that are built for it (with proper ventilation, and so forth), but it’s not recommended for fireplaces. Coal is a huge contributor to Wyoming’s economy. Wyoming residents, as well as all U.S. citizens, deserve every cent of taxes and royalties the industry pays, and it does not oblige them to treat the industry with any favor. — Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile editor-in-chief

  3. Dustin

    Why would you categorical make the statement that you should not burn coal in your home??

    Several home heating stove manufactures would strongly disagree with you. Secondly isn’t coal a major mineral that is mined in Wyoming ?

    Doesn’t the coal industry pay taxes in Wyoming?? I’m fairly sure thousands of Wyoming residents rely on the “coal” mining industry as a source of income.