Paradise

Deeply Rooted

Coal and Kentucky have a long complicated history together. It all began in 1820, when the first commercial mine in the United States opened near a small community called Paradise along the Green River in Muhlenberg County. The demand for coal increased as the decades went by for the War effort in the U.S. and Europe. America continued its growth after World War II as servicemen and women came home and started new lives and businesses. Coal was mined in and around Paradise to such a degree that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) purchased the community as health concerns from the coal ash grew for its citizens. In 1959, TVA built a coal-fired plant on the former site of the town and named it after the community. Folk legend John Prine immortalized the area in his 1971 hit song “Paradise”. The song spun the tale of how Peabody Coal Company hauled all of the coal and the town away. Today, TVA Paradise Fossil Plant still burns coal and produces electricity.

Kentucky and Coal

During the 1970s, Muhlenberg County was the top coal producing area in the world. That’s quite an amazing feat considering the size and population of Muhlenberg County. In the 1980s and 1990s, coal demands from Kentucky dwindled. Kentucky, which was once the top coal producing state dropped to third behind Wyoming and West Virginia.

Things are Changing

Nearly 200 years since the first coal mine opened, life is still centered on coal in Muhlenberg, but things are soon to change as the TVA Fossil Plant is undergoing some changes. Coal-fired electrical plants are undergoing some challenges and are changing to meet new demands and regulations.

The TVA Paradise Fossil Plant currently has 3 units used for burning coal and produces enough electricity to power 1 million homes. TVA will replace its two oldest units at the Paradise Fossil Plant with a combined-cycle natural gas plant. Unit 3 will still burn coal. The expected cost will be $1 billion and completed by the summer of 2017.

The long-term goal of TVA is harvest 20 percent of its power generation from natural gas, 20 percent from coal, 20 percent from hydro and other renewable sources, and 40 percent from nuclear power.

http://www.muhlenbergcounty.ky.gov/about.htm

http://www.coaleducation.org/default.htm

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2014/feb/13/tva-replaces-coal-gas-paradise-plant-kentucky/

http://blogs.courier-journal.com/watchdogearth/2013/11/14/tva-slashes-coal-burning-at-paradise-plant/

http://thestoms.com/StomTree/Paradise.html

http://www.tva.com/sites/paradise.htm

“TVA slashes coal burning at Paradise plant.” Courier-Journal, 2013, 20 Apr 2014

http://blogs.courier-journal.com/watchdogearth/2013/11/14/tva-slashes-coal-burning-at-paradise-plant/

“”Coal vs. Natural Gas Quiz.” National Geographic, 23 Apr 2014

http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/coal-vs-natural-gas-quiz/

 

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Release Me

Emissions

When coal is burned in power plants, it releases particulates and gases that are toxic to humans and the environment. Millions of pounds of toxic metals and acid gases are released every year. The coal industry has made improvements in the area of emissions through the use of better equipment, improved protocols, and better state standards over the last ten years; yet, it’s still far from being considered acceptable.

Mercury

Mercury is a type of metal that is a strong neurotoxin and is very harmful to developing fetuses and young children. Plant emissions from coal plants deposit mercury in rivers and streams, where it concentrates in aquatic organisms and fish. On a positive note, there was a decrease in mercury emissions from coal power plants, from 88,650 pounds in 2001 to 53,140 pounds in 2011. However, that’s a collective statistic meaning some coal plants emission of mercury actually increased over that same time period: Maryland was able to reduce their emissions of mercury by 80% while Texas increased their emissions of mercury. This is important to note because mercury concentrates in rivers, streams, and lakes closest to power plants and the water can travel long distances.

Power plants have until February 2015 to comply with the new Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) rule. MATS will enforce power plants to clean up their emissions and should cut current mercury emissions by 75%. But, the rule is being challenged by some of the major coal plants attempting to avoid the costs needed to meet the new standards.

Other Non-Mercury Metals

Other types of metals emitted from coal plants include:arsenic, chromium, cobalt, lead, and nickel. These metals have been found to be carcinogenic and are linked to liver and kidney damage, and nervous system disorders. Electric power plants are the largest source for arsenic emissions, accounting for 57% of the national total. The health and environmental risks associated with coal plant emissions depends on the proximity of vulnerable populations downwind and the amount of chemicals being released.

Acid Gases

Acid gases are another major type of toxic chemicals released by coal power plants. Hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, and hydrogen cyanide are three main byproducts found in the combustion of coal. Acid gases have been shown to cause lung damage in the forms of asthma, bronchitis, and chronic respiratory disease. The MATS rule would decrease the emissions of these pollutants by 88% by 2016. The EPA predicts that the reductions in direct emissions of particulate matter will save an estimated 4,000 to 11,000 lives each year that are now cut short by the heart and lung diseases that result from power plant fine particle pollution.

I Want to Know

Under the Federal Right to Know Law, power plants must submit annual reports to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on their emissions. The EPA generates a Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) that is used to identify the largest polluters and categorizes the types of pollutants being released. The power plants are only required to report emissions when the amount of the specific toxin, e.g. lead, in the coal that is burned throughout the year adds up to more than 10,000 pounds per year even though the toxic metals are dangerous when inhaled or ingested at extremely low concentrations (parts per billion). Mercury has a much lower threshold for reporting than the 10,000 pounds per year. The toxic metals are not destroyed during the combustion of coal; they are emitted from the plant, are discharged in wastewater, or piled up in landfills and impoundments.

Top 10

A Kentucky Coal Plant made the Top 10 Polluter List for the United States in 2011. The Tennessee Valley Authority Paradise Fossil Plant located in Muhlenberg, County, Kentucky made the Toxic Ten List for the Largest Sources of Power Plant Carcinogenic Metals Emissions. The Coal-fired power plant was actually number three on the Top 10 list. The Paradise Fossil Plant’s emissions included:

  • Arsenic at 1,505 pounds
  • Chromium at 1,409 pounds
  • Cobalt at 440 pounds
  • Lead at 452 pounds
  • Nickel at 2,250 pounds
  • Grand Total of Carcinogenic Metal Emissions was 6,634 pounds

It’s important to note here that the above numbers are in pounds. As mentioned earlier, toxic metals are dangerous when inhaled or ingested at extremely low concentrations (parts per billion). One part per billion is equivalent to 1 second in 32 years, 1 penny in 10 million dollars, or 1 blade of grass on a football field.

 Mercury site:

http://www.epa.gov/hg/exposure.htm#1

 Site promoting work for Muhlenberg County:

http://www.mafp.us/index.html

A site with a report from Jan 2013 stating that TVA plant in Drakesboro made the Top 10 Polluter lIst:

http://wkyufm.org/post/kentucky-coal-plant-makes-top-10-polluter-list

The EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory Program:

http://www2.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program

 

 

Skewed Figures

The Politics of Energy

The price you pay for energy, whether its solar power, wind power, or coal power isn’t actually what the market would set for that energy. Our government spends billions of dollars each year to support the energy industry and make energy cheaper than it would be on the open market. This gives a skewed sense of what things actually cost. Subsidies, in the form of either tax breaks and/or funding, favor certain energies over others.

According to the Environmental Law Institute, between the years of 2002-2008, the U.S. government directed $72 billion to fossil fuels and only $29 billion to renewable energy. Some could argue they would rather see it switched and there’s no way their political party would allow such a thing. Their elected officials care about the future of the country, the environment, and their overall health. I’m sure most do and I’m also sure that money and power can change people’s agendas.

In the election cycle of 2008, the top 2 recipients of donations from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) were Sen. John McCain a republican, and Sen. Barack Obama, a democrat. ACCCE is a group of 48 mining, rail, manufacturing, and power generating companies with an annual budget of $45 million. Lobbyists work hard in Washington to support elected officials that will drive laws and regulations in their favor. Subsidies that promote certain energies over others are an example of how politics and energy are closely related.

Coal and Politics

Politics play a big role in the coal industry and vice versa. One feeds the other and self sustains. Kentucky, which is the third top coal producing state in the U.S. (Wyoming is #1 and West Virginia is #2) is deeply rooted in that perpetual cycle. Regardless of where a candidate may stand on the use of coal and its environmental impacts, that candidate usually won’t buck the system.

Currently in Kentucky, there are a lot of elections underway. One of the biggest campaigns is for the 2014 United States Senate election. Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, is running for re-election to a sixth term. One of the biggest challengers for his seat is Alison Lundergan Grimes, a democrat who is the current Secretary of State. Both candidates have taken a strong stand on coal and support extensive use of coal as the coal industry makes up a significant part of Kentucky’s economy.

From Small Town to Capitol Hill

From small towns all the way to Capitol Hill, coal and politics walk hand in hand. Coal not only supports Kentucky’s economy, it is a major contributor to the U.S. economy and beyond. In 2012, Coal was used for roughly 37% of the 4 trillion kilowatt hours generated for electricity in the United States. For perspective, only 12% was used for renewable energy. As long as coal is the driving force in the economies of states, regions, and countries, it will continue to be a major player in U.S. and global politics.

“Estimating U.S. Government Subsidies to Energy Sources:2002-2008.” Environmental Law Institute, 2009. 13 Apr 2014

http://www.eli.org/research-report/estimating-us-government-subsidies-energy-sources-2002-2008

“The Clean Coal Lobbying Blitz.” The Center for Public Integrity, 2011. 14 Apr 2014

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2009/04/21/2885/‘clean-coal’-lobbying-blitz

“Fossil Fuels Generate Most U.S. Electricity.” U.S. Energy Information Administration, n.d. 14 Apr 2014

http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=electricity_in_the_united_states

“Where We Get Coal.” U.S. Energy Information Admisitration, n.d. 13 Apr 2014

http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=coal_where

 

Peer Pressure

Entangled

The coal industry and the science world have been entangled since the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Something changed back then when people started demanding more from their government. They wanted to protect the environment and its valuable resources. Natural habitats started to mean more to people. Endangered species and human health concerns gained more attention than ever before. Scientists started conducting meaningful research on the effects of air quality and water pollution. Pollution and polluters started to become major headlines.

Decades later, the coal industry and the science world are still in front of the microphone. More often than not, they don’t see eye to eye. With the explosion of open source information and public domain, its no wonder social media has grabbed on to trending science topics and medical findings. But how do you know which research is valid? Just because you’ve read it on the Internet, doesn’t make it absolute and true. Which research claims should be taken seriously? Especially when scientists report and say conflicting things. How do you know what to believe?

Peer Review

Peer review is a system used by scientists to decide which research should be accepted and published. Experts in the same field of study evaluate the research in question. The experts who do the evaluation are not part of the editorial staff of the scientific journal or part of the original research staff. The process is set up to ensure any research accepted meets high standards of quality before it is published and within the scientific community. The peer review system helps ensure that no unproven research is published or accepted. In contrast, research that is not subjected to peer review relies on personal judgment from an editor and not scientific quality and distinction.

Progress?

There is no avoiding the significance of coal and its impact on the local and global economy. Coal has provided energy and income for many generations. However, at what cost? To be fair, the coal industry has made great strides in its environmental and health impact since 1970, but still has a long way to go. An example of this is Mountaintop Removal Mining.

There are two types of mining in the coal business: surface mining and underground mining. One type in particular that has been getting a lot of press lately is Mountaintop Removal Mining (MTR). MTR is a type of surface mining that involves the removal of a summit or ridge. Land is deforested and then explosives are used to blast away soil and rock to expose the coal underneath. In West Virginia, more than 500 mountaintops have been removed so far. In addition, 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been lost to mining refuse. Emissions from MTR have also been linked to air pollution. Acres of wildlife habitats are lost and watersheds have been polluted with soil and toxic compounds. According to the I Love Mountains organization website, the human cost of coal in Appalachia can be summarized below. The site has 21 peer-reviewed articles that discuss in detail the effects of MTR on humans, the environment, and economics of the community.

  • People living near mountaintop mining have cancer rates of 14.4% compared to 9.4% for people elsewhere in Appalachia
  • The rate of children born with birth defects is 42% higher in mountaintop removal mining areas
  • The public health costs of pollution from coal operations in Appalachia amount to $75 billion a year

Use the following links to peer reviewed science articles to educate yourself even further about coal, in particular, mountaintop removal mining and the health and socioeconomic impacts it has had so far on those living nearby:

I Love Mountains www.ilovemountains.org

Coal River Mountain Watch www.crmw.net

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth www.kftc.org

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition www.ohvec.org

Appalachian Voices www.appvoices.org

The following is a short list of some of the peer-reviewed articles found on the I Love Mountains website:

2012Mountaintop Removal and Job Creation: Exploring the Relationship Using Spatial Regression

2011Cumulative impacts of mountaintop mining on an Appalachian watershed

2011Falling behind: life expectancy in US counties from 2000 to 2007 in an international context

2011 – Severe Occupational Pneumoconiosis Among West Virginia Coal Miners: 138 Cases of Progressive Massive Fibrosis Compensated Between 2000-2009

2011 – Health-Related Quality of Life Among Central Appalachian Residents in Mountaintop Mining Counties

2011 – The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996–2003

2011 – Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal

2011 – Mountaintop Mining Valley Fills and Aquatic Ecosystems: A Scientific Primer on Impacts and Mitigation Approaches

2011 – Poverty and Mortality Disparities in Central Appalachia: Mountaintop Mining and Environmental Justice

2011 – Chronic Cardiovascular Disease Mortality in Mountaintop Mining Areas of Central Appalachian States

2011 – Self-Reported Cancer Rates in Two Rural Areas of West Virginia with and without Mountaintop Coal Mining

2010 – Ecological Integrity of Streams Related to Human Cancer Mortality Rates

 

“The Human Cost- Study Summaries.” End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining, n.d. 12 Apr 2014

http://ilovemountains.org/the-human-cost/study-summaries

“Surface Area Required to Replace Mountain Top Removal Coal Mining with Solar Power.” Land Art Generator Initiative, n.d. 11 Apr 2014. http://landartgenerator.org/blagi/archives/1700

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labor Pains

Hard Labor

Working in the coalmines is hard work. No doubt about it. It’s woven into the fabric of our American history. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, coal has been used in vast quantities to fuel technology and innovation. Improved operating standards and protocols have allowed mining to become safer and less labor intensive, but it’s still hard work and can be very dangerous. The amount of coal harvested by one miner has more than tripled since 1978 alone.

Two Types of Mining: Surface and Underground

Surface Mining, which includes Mountaintop Removal Mining (MTR), makes up two-thirds of the coal production in the United States. Surface mining doesn’t mean the coal is sitting on the surface of the ground. It’s actually buried 200 feet or less. Giant machines remove the topsoil and layers of rock to reveal the coal. The topsoil and rock removed is known as overburden. In the case of MTR, explosives blast away the topsoil and rock after the land has been deforested. After the coal has been harvested the overburden is put back into the pit and topsoil is added and the area replanted.

 Underground Mining is used when the top of the coal seam is several hundred feet deep or more. Some mines have gone to depths of several thousand feet. In underground mining, miners ride elevators down deep shafts then use machines to dig out and harvest the coal.

Dangerous Work

Historically, mining for coal has been a dangerous endeavor since it first began. In the U.S. alone, 100,000 deaths occurred in the 20th century. Even in the 1940s it wasn’t uncommon to have 1,000 deaths a year. The total number of coal fatalities in the U.S. from 1900 to 2012 was 137,650.

From 2003 to 2014, the state of West Virginia has had the most coal mining fatalities in the U.S. at 123 deaths. Kentucky has had the second most fatalities with 77. Followed by Alabama, which has had 23 deaths. Interestingly, Wyoming, which is the number one coal producing state, only had 7 during that same time period.

Miners face a lot of dangers in the workplace from unsafe facilities and cramped environments. Falling objects, roof collapses, and failed equipment are just a few of the many hazards. In addition, miners have an increased chance of developing respiratory damage through the breathing of high levels of dust and chemicals. Some of the disorders from respiratory damage associated with coal mining include Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis (CWP or Black Lung), and Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF). In addition, hearing loss is also a major health hazard in the coal mining industry from the loud heavy equipment used.

Worth the Risk

Most miners make a good salary and feel the pay outweighs the potential safety and health hazards associated with work. Workers want to maintain a certain lifestyle that their salary affords them. The average salary for U.S. coal miners is $81,462. Comparing the average salary for other industry workers at only $49,200, it’s easy to see which pays more.

  • In Kentucky, the average coal miner makes $70,615
  • Kansas has the highest average pay at $106, 663.
  • West Virginia miners average pay is $84,751

“Mining the Coal.” U.S. Energy Information Association, n.d. 14 Apr 2014

http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=coal_mining

“Former Miner Explains Culture of Mining.” National Public Radio, 2010, 15 Apr 2014

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125676950

“Mine Safety and Health at a Glance.” Mine Safety and Health Administration/U.S. Department of Labor, 2014, 15 Apr 2014

http://www.msha.gov/stats/statistics.htm#.U00xW15bTwJ

“Annual Coal Mining Wages by State vs. All Industries.” The National Mining Association, 2013, 15 Apr 2014

http://www.nma.org/index.php/coal-statistics/coal-workforce

“Health Risks Associated with Coal Mining.” Kentucky Environmental Foundation, n.d. 15 Apr 2014

http://www.kyenvironmentalfoundation.org/coal-mining-health-risks.html

 

Burning Questions

Energy Breakdown

The argument against the use of coal for electricity can be arranged into three main categories: it causes climate change, it doesn’t deliver energy efficiently (non renewable), and it’s destroying the public’s health. Coal and environmentalists have been at odds over these topics and much more for many years. Instead of just pointing the finger of blame at a group or an idea, let’s talk about alternatives and possible solutions to the problems at hand.

Saying Good Bye

Phasing out coal plants would take a lot of consideration. It wouldn’t be an easy task to say the least. Several things to think about are: timelines and comparative costs to replace coal-fired power, timelines and costs to transfer alternative power over from coal-fired power, timelines and costs for transmission lines of new power from coal power, and the job losses and unemployment associated with the shutdown of coal plants. No matter how you look at it, the U.S. is deeply rooted with coal. To be successful in the phasing out of coal plants, every angle would need to be considered.

Clean Coal & Carbon Capture

The idea behind Clean Coal technology is actually a collection of technologies that are being developed to mitigate the negative aspects of coal-fire generation. In particular, the atmospheric problems associated from the release of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) during coal burning. There are three phases to Carbon Capture: Capture, Transport, and Storage. A Carbon Capture plant would capture the CO2 and SO2 before it was released into the atmosphere, separate them, and compress the CO2 into a liquid. The CO2 would then be injected into depleted natural gas fields and other geologic formations underground.

Renewable Energies

Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources, meaning they are from resources that are finite and will eventually dwindle and run out. Renewable energies, such as solar and wind, will never run out. Other examples of renewable energies are geothermal, ocean (tidal), and bioenergy.

Types of Solar Energy include: photovoltaic-producing energy directly from sunlight, solar hot water-heating water from solar energy, solar electricity-using the sun to generate electricity, and passive solar heating and daylighting-using solar energy to heat and light buildings.

Wind Energy is one of the oldest renewable energies. Windmills have been around for centuries. Today, wind energy is used to generate electricity in much the same way it was used as a mill long ago. When the wind blows, a propeller is turned and creates energy.

Geothermal Energy uses the heat from the Earth. It is used to heat and cool buildings and even some homes. Geothermal Direct Use produces heat directly from hot water within the Earth.

Ocean energy comes in two forms: thermal and mechanical. Thermal energy comes from the ocean as it covers 70% of the planet. The upper part of the ocean’s water is heated from the sun and is warmer than the deep oceans cool temperatures. This temperature difference creates thermal energy and is used to generate electricity. Mechanical energy comes from the ocean’s waves and tides.

Follow the link to peer-reviewed studies about coal and alternatives:

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Coal_Studies

Visit the Carbon Capture & Storage Association’s site:

http://www.ccsassociation.org

Visit the Global Carbon Capture & Storage Institute’s site:

http://www.globalccsinstitute.com

Visit the EPA’s site on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Sequestration:

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ccs/

Visit the U.S. government’s site on renewable energy:

http://www.energy.gov/science-innovation/energy-sources/renewable-energy

Visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:

http://www.nrel.gov

Visit the Renewable Energy World’s site:

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/tech/home

“Coal Phase out.” The Center for Media and Democracy, n.d. 15 Apr 2014

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Coal_phase-out

“Types of Solar Energy.” Renewable Energy World, n.d. 15 Apr 2014

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/tech/solar-energy

“Alternatives to Coal.” Coal Swarm, n.d.15 Apr 2014

http://coalswarm.org/find-information/search-by-topic/alternatives-to-coal/

 

 

Hot Topic

Climate Change in a Nutshell

Climate change is the change in the Earth’s climate over a period of time. The time period can range from decades to millions of years. It’s that simple. Where it gets difficult, are all the different variables and factors that play a significant role in that change. The reason climate change is a hot topic right now is that we are starting to realize that humans are playing a big role in that change.

The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) emits greenhouse gases that harm the earth’s atmosphere. The more we burn, the more greenhouse gases are emitted, and the more we increase the greenhouse effect. Just like the way in which the inside of a greenhouse for plants is warm, greenhouse gases trap heat and make our planet warmer. The Environmental Protection Agency states “human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years.”

Coal and the Greenhouse Gases

Coal is mined and transported to a power plant where it is placed in a boiler and burned. The burning coal produces steam and certain gases. The steam rises up into a turbine and rotates propellers that create energy in the form of electricity. The power plant has cooling towers, which release the heat from the steam and the gases.

The gases released from the coal burning depend on the type and purity of the coal. One of the many gases that are released from the burning of coal that is harmful to our atmosphere is carbon dioxide. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a type of greenhouse gas that is also naturally occurring in our atmosphere. However, human activity, in the form of burning fossil fuels, has caused the levels to skyrocket.

What’s Up with CO2?

As mentioned earlier, greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. CO2 and other gases in the atmosphere trap heat and make the earth warm, which can change our climate. It doesn’t necessarily mean that where you live the temperature gets hotter. That may or may not happen. Some parts of the world will get hotter and some will experience cooler temperatures. Climate change is a change in the climate over a period of time. Weather patterns could change and the climate could cause issues that we don’t want to see: Ice caps will melt. Sea levels will rise. Ocean’s will acidify. Intense hurricanes will increase. Agricultural yields will decline. Heat waves will increase. Rain over land will become heavier. Species will become extinct. It all sounds terrible and, quite honestly, it is.

U.S. Greenhouse emissions increase and decrease from year to year depending on changes in the economy, the price of fossil fuels, the consumption of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas), mild or extreme weather conditions, and the use of alternative renewable (wind, solar, etc.) energy. The following is a list of some of the main sources of greenhouse emissions in the U.S. for 2011:

  • 38% Electricity (Over 70% comes from burning fossil fuels, mostly from coal and natural gas)
  • 28% Transportation (90% of fuel used was petroleum based, gas and diesel)
  • 20% Industrial (burning fossil fuels to make energy necessary to produce goods from raw materials)

 Small Cars

As of 2012, scientists estimate we had emitted 545 billion metric tons of CO2 and we are on course to pass the threshold they say will bring on its worst effects in 2040. For comparison, a small car weighs about 1 ton. Therefore, a billion metric tons is roughly the same mass as 1 billion small cars. The U.S. government uses metric tons for consistency and comparability with other countries. A metric ton is about 10% larger than a U.S. “short” ton. 

We Need Coal for Energy vs. We Need to Reduce Emissions

The debate war rages on. World coal consumption rose by 54% from 2000 to 2011 with the rapid industrialization of countries like China and India. During that same time period, the U.S. actually decreased its consumption. China is the world’s top consumer of coal, followed by the United States, then India, Russia, and finally Germany. Whether or not you believe climate change is real is not necessary here. I think we can all agree that air pollution is real and it’s harmful to people and our planet. This may be Earth’s biggest experiment ever. We need to be proactive and not reactive as much as possible. Instead of trying to prove the other side is wrong in this debate. Let’s try to be better stewards of our planet where we will all have a better tomorrow.

“Sources of Greenhouse Emissions.” Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. 14 Apr 2014

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources.html

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140409-ipcc-mitigation-emissions-climate-science/

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/coal/charts-interactive

 

 

 

Little Rock, Big Impact

Easy to Understand

Put simply, coal is a combustible black rock found underground that is commonly used as an energy source. That’s it. Nothing else. Actually, it goes much deeper than that. Coal is the remains of prehistoric vegetation that formed hundreds of millions of years ago in a time period known as the Carboniferous Period. The energy we get from coal actually comes from the solar energy that is trapped in the prehistoric plants. Normally when plants die they release their stored energy but under certain conditions, as with coal, the energy is trapped and locked inside. These prehistoric plants are buried to great depths through the movement of the earth (tectonic plates) and experience high temperatures and pressures. Eventually the prehistoric plants undergo physical and chemical changes and form coal. Today, coal is harvested and burned to release its stored energy.

Coal is primarily used (93% in the United States) for the generation of electricity. It’s also used in many industrial applications such as cement and steel manufacturing. In fact, around 70% of total global steel production relies on coal. Around 1 billion tons of coal is used in global steel production, which is roughly 14% of total coal consumption worldwide. To put things in more perspective, there was a 72% increase in steel use worldwide between 2002 and 2012.

One quick note: Steel is 100% recyclable.

Coal is grouped into four distinct categories known as ranks that are based on the amount of sulfur and mercury content the coal contains along with its heat capabilities: anthracite, bituminous, subbituminous, and lignite. The rankings are in decreasing order of heat content. Therefore, anthracite has the highest heat content followed by bituminous, subbituminous, and lignite. Around 90% of all coal mines in the U.S. are bituminous coal mines.

It’s Everywhere

The United States has more estimated recoverable coal reserves than anywhere in the world. The term coal reserve takes into account available mining technology and costs and only includes what is economically recoverable at any given time. On the other hand, coal resources include all potential coal deposits. According to the World Coal Association, coal resources are 17 times greater than coal reserves worldwide.

Coal reserves are found in almost every country, with recoverable coal reserves in nearly 80 countries. Most coal is consumed within the country it is harvested. Seventy countries actively mine coal and only 15% export coal. The top coal exporting countries are: Australia, Indonesia, Russia, USA, and South Africa.

There are 860 billion tons of coal reserves worldwide. Which means there are enough reserves to supply the world for 118 years. That’s a really long time but it’s important to note that coal accounts for over two thirds of all non-renewable energy sources.

“Coal Facts.” American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, n.d. 11 Apr. 2014.

http://www.coalfacts.org

“Energy in Brief.” U.S. Energy Information Administration, n.d. 12 Apr 2014.

http://www.eia.gov/energy_in_brief/article/role_coal_us.cfm

“Global Availability of Coal.” World Coal Association, n.d. 12 Apr 2014

http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/coal-statistics/coal-matters/

What is Coal?” World Coal Association, n.d. 12 Apr 2014

http://www.worldcoal.org/coal/what-is-coal/

“Coal and Steel Statistics.” World Coal Association, n.d. 12 Apr 2014

http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/coal-statistics/coal-steel-statistics/

 

Data Mining

Facts and Figures

Statistics are ubiquitous. The world is full of them. It doesn’t matter what you are reading, watching, or discussing, statistics always seem to come up. They are in everything from predicting weather patterns, analyzing politics, and determining which sports figure should be the Most Valuable Player, to insurance rates, financial investing, and figuring out if that restaurant you’ve been dying to visit deserves five stars or not. It goes on and on. Statistics are important because they can give us an understanding of what is being studied and what is being asked. They allow us to get to the core issues and help us make good decisions. Statistics can explain theories, support ideas, and help interpret data.

The Numbers Add Up

One of the more polarizing energy topics found today would be the use of coal and its knee deep in statistics. Whether or not you are for the use of coal, countless studies and articles exist that support your agenda. For example, according to the World Coal Association and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, coal provides the United States with energy security. So much so, that for the next 112 years, we have enough coal to suit our needs. They go on to say, that 93% of the coal consumed here in the U.S. is used for electricity and is important for the production of steel, paper, cement, and plastics. Thirty-nine percent of the energy generated in the U.S. comes from coal, followed by 27% for natural gas, and 19% by nuclear processes. Forty-six states in the U.S. burn coal to supply electricity with over 400 coal-fired plants in operation.

Is it Worth It?

From the above, it seems quite obvious coal is used abundantly, but at what cost? Here are some more statistics for you to consider: According to the U.S. EPA, 386,000 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants are produced from Coal-fired Power Plants. Over 40% of mercury emissions come from Coal plants alone. Eighty-four different hazardous air pollutants come from coal-fired plants. Emissions from coal plants vary depending on the type of coal burned, the control parameters in place at the plant, and the duration of plant operations. Effects depend on the proximity of human populations, weather patterns, topography, and the height of the plant stacks.

It’s easy to see that coal’s importance cannot be understated. It’s also easy to see that it comes with a cost. There are a myriad of facts and figures available to help you make a decision on where you might stand on the topic of coal. Dig deep and mine some data. Use the following links to study the statistics.

www.worldcoal.org

www.coalfacts.org

www.americaspower.org

www.nma.org

www.lungUSA.org

www.epa.gov

www.eia.doe.gov

Toxic Air: The Case for Cleaning Up Coal-fired Power Plants. Rep. Washington, DC: American Lung Association, 2011. Print.

“Coal Statistics.” World Coal Association, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2014. http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/coal-statistics/

“Coal Facts.” American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, n.d. 11 Apr. 2014.

http://www.coalfacts.org

“Surface Area Required to Replace Mountain Top Removal Coal Mining with Solar Power.” Land Art Generator Initiative, n.d. 11 Apr 2014. http://landartgenerator.org/blagi/archives/1700