Who Are Coal’s Enemies in West Virginia?

As you are pondering the five questions I posed in my last post, I want to revisit a topic I have touched on here in 2009 and here just last year.

The WV Coal Association is whipping politicians into a frenzy about an imaginary (or delusional?) war on coal.  The coal industry has invented a whole gallery of boogie men: the EPA, the Sierra Club, tree huggers, and on and on.

But look at this story from the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, posted on the EIA’s Web site last week.

Preliminary coal production data for 2012 show that 9 out of the top 10 producing coal mines in the United States are located in Wyoming; the top two producing mines in Wyoming account for 20% of total U.S. coal production by tonnage. Collectively, the top 10 mines accounted for 38% of total U.S. coal production by tonnage in 2012.  Shares of production by energy content for the top mines are somewhat lower since the sub-bituminous coal they produce has lower heat content per ton than bituminous coal produced in other regions.

All of the top 10 producing coal mines in the United States are sub-bituminous, surface mining operations, and each mine is located in the Powder River Basin. The lone mine in the top 10 not located in Wyoming is the Spring Creek Mine in Montana. The nation’s top producing mine in 2012 was the North Antelope Rochelle Mine, which produced 108 million short tons, followed by the Black Thunder Mine, which produced 93.1 million short tons. Individually, each of these two mines produced more coal than the entire state of Kentucky (90.6 million short tons), which was the third largest coal producing state in 2012.

And look at this graph from the EIA article:

The Appalachian Basin states, including WV, not even close.  As the article points out, Wyoming’s sub-bituminous coal does not have the heat content of Appalachian Basin coal, but even with high transportation costs, Wyoming coal is out-competing WV steam coal in the US in a growing number of electricity markets.

Appalachian Basin coal is also facing serious competition from high sulfur, strip mined coal in southern Illinois.  Now that the Cheney administration set aside the Clean Air Act, obsolete power plants, like WV’s John Amos plant and the Harrison Power Station, have been able to add stack scrubbers.  These plants can now burn high sulfur coal again and still generate legal limits of sulfur and nitrogen emissions.  And more and more of that high sulfur coal has been coming from strip mines and rapidly expanding underground operations (see comments discussion on this Coal Tattoo post for recent data) in southern Illinois and western Kentucky.

So the real enemies of WV coal are not the phantoms of the WV Coal Association’s fevered imagination.  The real enemies of the WV coal industry are in the industry itself.  And, oh yeah, many of them, like Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, are producing coal in Wyoming and Montana while they play WV politicians and coal miners for chumps.

5 thoughts on “Who Are Coal’s Enemies in West Virginia?

  1. Well I AM an enemy of coal, as a WV treehugger. But unlike the western competition (and the natural gas competition), I and all the other environmentalists in West Virginia are completely powerless. We can lobby “our” representatives in Charleston but it’s like the sound is turned off, they can’t hear us because we haven’t given them thousands of dollars.
    As for the companies playing the WV pols and miners for chumps, I suspect that the same companies tell Wyoming officials and miners they’d better play along and stop complaining because they can barely compete against all that cheap, high-BTU, under regulated coal from WV and KY.

  2. What about the cheap price of natural gas taking down the coal industry? As someone who can hear the coal trains going through Charleston all day and night it seems to me a lot of coal is still being mined. How much is being exported? Is the international market price on coal going up?

    I participated yesterday in the rally of coal miners to protect their pensions and contracts from a Patriot Coal Co. bankruptcy (6,000 to 8,000 marchers the biggest rally I have ever seen in Charleston). It was a very powerful demonstration. The UMWA members know the coal companies are not really their friends. Now we have to show how leaving the coal in the ground is in their self interest – admittedly the task of a life time.

  3. Today in the Gazette APCo said they spent $ 100,000,000 on the Derecho and Sandy storms which of course will be paid for by the rate payers of which APCo says they have 480,752 in West Vigrinia that is $ 208 per customer. Almost enough to buy every customer one solar panel. How big will the storms have to get before people realize it would be a better idea to spend money on climate change reversal and leave the fossil fuels in the ground? What can we do in the mean time to make it more likely that our society doesn’t collapse when the storms get bigger?

  4. Soon China will own all our Natural resources. America is for sale and its a budget garage sale- West Virginia is just a seen as a piece of junk in the discount bin.

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