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.