The coal war heats up

Coal is a major source of energy in the U.S. just as the U.

Coal is a major source of energy in the U.S. just as the U.S. is a majro producer of coal. We do not need to import coal the way we import two-thirds of the petroleum we consume. While we do import a small portion of the coal we burn, we actually export more than we import.

2007 Coal production. Map courtesy of U.S. Energy Information Agency.

But all is not going well for the coal industry. Concerns over CO2 emissions and global wamring, coupled with general air pollution issues and then the coal ash mess in Tennessee have the coal industry playing defense. Yet as the map shows, coal is widely produced and thus carries considerable political clout in numerous states. There are obvious strong economic arguments in favor of coal. It's American and it's cheap to mine and burn. Opponents point to the damage done to the environment from mining to air pollution. That alone ranges from CO2 to acid rain. As a result, in the past two years 83 proposed coal plants have bitten the dust, coal dust at that. The pro-coal lobby is widely playing a TV ad starring President Obama calling for clean coal in a campaign speech. So far it is not clear where the Obama Administration is headed on coal use. But at the state level coal is not doing well right now. Skeptics say there's no such thing as "clean coal." One thing the coal folks look forward to: carbon sequestration, a technology not yet seen on a utility-scale application.

Not all is bleak for the coal industry. They just won a federal appeals court ruling that gives them the right to continue mountaintop removal as a method of coal extraction. That means no mine shafts but exploding the top of a mountain to reach the coal below. Coal companies in the Appalachian region can often employ mountaintop removal. This ruling comes ata atime when coal demdn is down and the industry is losing jobs and revenue. Mountaintop removal is cheaper than traditional mining. As long as the U.S. continues to put no value on the destruction and resulting pollution of air and streams.


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