US Coal Industry Decline: Unavoidable Consequence?

If you watch the energy markets like I do, you’ve likely heard about the sizable and ongoing  US coal industry decline.  Thanks to cheap, abundant, and cleaner burning natural gas- and increasingly stringent environmental regulations, demand for coal-fired electricity is slowing at a drastic pace.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) coal accounted for a mere 34% of US electricity generation in 2015.  That’s down from 39% in 2014 and the lowest share of total generation since 1949.

Of course, this slowdown is wreaking havoc on the coal industry…

Thousands of miners have been laid off, and many of the nations largest coal companies have filed for bankruptcy including Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, Patriot Coal, Walter Energy, and Alpha Natural Resources.

Now, here’s the question…

Is the coal industry downturn a good thing?

Obviously, this is a very controversial and heated issue.  I’ll attempt to look at both sides of the argument in this, and forthcoming articles.

First of all, from an environmental perspective the coal industry slowdown has vast benefits.  Coal burning is scientifically proven to emit vastly more air pollutants and climate warming gases than any other fossil fuel. You know, nasty things like Sulfur dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Mercury, and particulate matter.

What’s more, you’d be hard pressed to find a physician who doesn’t believe coal-burning has a negative impact on human health.

And let’s not forget Carbon dioxide (CO2).  You know, the gas that gets the blame for global warming.  According to the EIA, burning anthracite coal emits 228 pounds of CO2 per BTU.  Thats nearly double the amount produced when natural gas, another feedstock for electricity production, is burned.

In my opinion…

Coal is an outdated energy technology whose time has finally come.

Mankind has been burning the stuff for thousands of years.  Archeologists have found evidence of coal-burning in ancient Rome (100-200 AD).  The industrial revolution of the early 1800’s was powered by coal. Society started using to it to power the burgeoning electricity grid in the late 1800’s.

No matter how you slice it, coal has done a lot for mankind.  Modern society was built on the back of it.

But guess what?

As in all aspects of life… things change.

Armed with scientific knowledge, society now understands the negative environmental and health consequences of burning coal.

What’s more, we now have much cleaner energy alternatives available to us.  And while there will be some challenges implementing these new technologies, there’s no question they’ll be vastly better than powering our electricity grid off of what essentially amounts to burning huge piles of black rock.

To a clean energy future,

Justin

Editor’s Note: We’ll continue covering the effects of the coal industry downturn in future articles.  For example, how the coal industry slowdown is uprooting families and destroying local economies- an important, and often overlooked, aspect.

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