Oct 16, 2015 - 3:15pm

There Are Gigawatts of Good Reasons to Still Mine Coal

Senior Editor, Digital Content

Joby Warrick of The Washington Post asks a strange question: If it’s President Obama’s mission to reduce carbon emissions, why is the federal government allowing coal to be mined on federal land and exported?

The answer is obvious and hidden in plain sight in the graphics package that accompanies Warrick’s story: Increasing world demand for electricity. 

This chart shows from 1980 to 2012, world electricity production from coal increased by 192%. Forty percent of electricity is generated from coal.

World demand for electricity will increase for decades to come. “In sub-Saharan Africa, where just 24 percent of the population has access to electric power, demand is likely to grow exponentially in the years ahead,” notes the Post. In India, with its middle class expected to grow to 200 million by 2020, Robert Bryce at the Manhattan Institute points out, “India’s coal use is expected to more than double by 2035.”

Being a cheap, abundant source of energy, coal can fuel countries that strive to live lifestyles as comfortable as ours in the United States. Can’t say I blame them.

Stephen Eule at the Institute for 21st Century Energy quotes Piyush Goyal, Indian Minister for State for Power, Coal, and New & Renewable Energy:

Just as in all other countries, including the developed world, coal will continue to remain the mainstay of our energy related needs for the foreseeable future. In all fairness, it would not be correct to say or to expect India to move away from coal when we are at the cusp of our developmental journey.

According to the World Coal Association, there are more than 2,300 coal fired power plants planned or under construction worldwide. They will provide electricity access to millions of people, greatly improving their lives. These plants will be built and burn coal no matter what coal opponents do.

Given this, “What taxpayers are being helped by denying the United States — with the biggest coal reserves in the world — the fastest-growing markets for coal in the world?” Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association, asked in the Post story.

Good question. Even though the administration is very wrong on its carbon emissions regulations, it at least acknowledges coal’s important role. Warrick quotes Interior Secretary Sally Jewell: “Coal is, and will continue to be, an important part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future." In the U.S., coal still generates nearly 35% of all electricity.

Coal has been a valuable energy source for thousands of years and will continue to be so in the decades ahead. Putting up barriers to both domestic coal use and exports denies this reality.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.