Top 3 Ways to Rid U.S. Need for Mountaintop Removal Coal

Written by Annie Sartor

Topics: Clean Energy, Coal

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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?

1 Comment For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Matt Leonard says:

    Great post Annie – a couple more thoughts.

    Energy efficiency is without a doubt the #1 thing we need to tackle. While it’s much sexier to advocate for (and see) solar and wind installations – as long as overall energy demand keeps growing, renewable energy isn’t offsetting a meaningful amount of fossil-based generation. We have to drop our demand drastically, and the convenient truth is that efficiency is by far the cheapest, easiest, fastest way to address global warming and energy justice issues.

    As far as coal exports go – I agree, US exports of coal are a growing problem – especially for Appalachian coal (simply being closer to the coasts, it is easier to export to foreign markets than from the Powder River Basin). While exports are generally increasing, they currently account for less than 1% of US coal production – the other 99.5% still goes to domestic use. I do think exports are worth keeping an eye on, but more in regards to looking at specific companies and mines for strategic campaign opportunities. But in general, I think we have more impact looking at where the 99.5% of US produced coal goes, and that is our own backyard.

    Keep up the great work!


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