Those of us who are working to stop mountaintop removal coal mining are often asked how the United States would meet its energy needs without coal from Appalachia.
There are a few answers to that question…
1 Be Energy Efficient
One answer is that opportunities for energy efficiency in the US are huge. Individual and commercial consumers could reduce the annual amount of energy used in this country by far more than the energy that’s produced in Appalachian coal fields – which is estimated at between 5% and 10% of coal produced annually.
2 Invest in Renewable Energy
Another answer is that rather than continually panicking about where we will find more fossil fuels to feed energy needs, we should start investing seriously in renewable energy alternatives. Ideally, both energy efficiency and development of renewable energy would also create new jobs in the energy sector – which may address another oft-asked question.
3 Stop Exporting Coal
A third answer to this question, and one I find particularly interesting, is that much of the coal mined in the United States isn’t consumed here in the United States. Coal exports are growing and many US coal mining companies, such as perpetual bad guys Massey Energy, see vast profits in exporting coal abroad.
A great example of the coal for export trend is Alpha Natural Resources, a Virginia-based company and the United State’s third-largest coal producer. Alpha just announced “soaring” second quarter earnings, which they attribute largely to growing demand for coal in Asia and Europe. The coal that Alpha is exporting comes from their operations in Wyoming, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
Poisoned drinking water, flattened mountains and devastated communities are a mighty high price to pay for lining Alpha’s pockets in the export market.
The question of how we will keep the lights on here in the United States becomes moot when US coal producers export vast quantities of coal to Asian, European and South American markets. The question becomes, why would we let coal companies pollute US waterways and blow up Appalachian mountains for coal that actually doesn’t keep our lights on, just makes coal company CEO’s richer?