The mining of coal in WV is being done according to federal laws.  If it doesn’t look pretty, don’t look. When they are done, the forests will take over again. Pa was logged from border to border. It has more trees now then ever and is still being logged, just in a different way.

The forests will take over again, but there are quite a few studies that conclude that full reforestation of a mine site may take hundreds of years, and of course the mountain tops will never come back.

But my point was not that things don’t look pretty when the mines shut down.

If you haven’t read my paper, here are the points I made:

  1. Mining counties are among the poorest in the nation, and when the mines leave, it is rare to find any economic development.
  2. Residents of mining counties have shorter lives, more unhealthy days, more birth defects, more cancer. The economic benefits of the mine prove to be a small fraction of the health costs it creates.
  3. Mountain top mining with valley fill (MTM/VF) destroys streams, replaces forests with grass, produces more runoff and flooding, reduces biodiversity.
  4. Emissions from coal-fired power plants dump mercury, heavy metals, acid gases, and particles. The technology to remove these harmful emissions may have been developed, but it is not yet in use. Nearly one-half of coal-fired power plants built in 2010 used old, inefficient technology.[/list]

We are not yet in the era of Clean Coal.

David Stang


 To anyone who is familiar with the facts that the “paper” purports to address, I think it even goes past cherry-picking, and pretty far into the realm of propaganda and manipulation. As one of numerous examples, the author cites declining employment in mining as if that suggests mining is economically unimportant.

Not what I said. What I tried to argue was that mining has become more efficient, but our miners are no better off. I said “As coal companies closed the mines, the number of miners dropped from 704,793 in 1923 to 88,000 in 2011. Yet production increased during that period, from 564 million short tons to 1,097 million short tons. Today, coal mines are getting more from fewer people. In 1923, the average miner produced 843 tons of coal. In 2011, a miner produced 12,465 tons.xii Coal mines have been systematically improving their machinery, and replacing miners with mining machines. Today, the mining industry employs just 2% of the Appalachian workforce.” Coal mining is economically important, but at 2% of the Appalachian workforce, it may not be as economically important as you think.

The paper also find a way to overlook several decades of effort to address environmental and mine safety issues associated with coal use. For example, it’s kind of odd to hear gripes about acid rain when stringent SO2 requirements have already pushed the market to employ low-sulfur coal, scrubbers, etc. And I’m not sure why billions have been spent on baghouses, electrostatic precipitators, etc. if they don’t materially reduce particulates.

Power plants  have gotten cleaner, but half of newly built plants were built with old technology. Over 386,000 tons of 84 separate hazardous air pollutants spew from over 400 coal-burning power plants in 46 states. There are many ideas for how we might deal with the massive amount of CO2 created by coal-burning power plants, but none of them are implemented on a commercial scale. I’ll give credit for improvements in our powerplants. But I object that we have great scrubbing technology that we are not using. If I added millions of dollars of scrubbers to my powerplant, I’d be pretty annoyed to find a competitor building one without such technology.

It would be nice if the paper at least attempted to address the consequences of the reduced reliance on coal it seems to seek. Is it ok to have electricity prices go way up, even though this would be regressive, and have the most adverse effects on the low-income people the paper repeatedly cites? Is it ok to switch to other fossil fuels (oops, still big CO2 emitters) or shall we just shut down the part of the economy (close to half) that relies on coal-fired generation? Or maybe this guy is the last person on earth who believes that windmills and solar are ready to replace baseload coal plants. As the saying goes, “Any mule can kick down a barn; it takes a carpenter to build one.”

Actually, I do not think we should shut down anything. Every energy technology has its shortcomings, and any change in the way we do business will mean more expensive electricity. But that does not mean that we should spend our efforts defending the mess we’ve made. If the coal industry poured their Clean Coal PR investment into actual scrubbers, or actual research and demonstration plants instead, we would be closer to where we need to get.

Meanwhile, much of my complaint was about mountaintop mining. Much could be done there to mitigate the terrible impacts of this — impacts on the economy, on community health, on the environment. If doing the right thing would mean we paid a little more for electricity, then I think we’ve not been paying enough. Maybe, if electricity cost a bit more, we wouldn’t waste it so casually.

David Stang