In the competitive energy market in the United States, coal is often a market share winner. With “modern” mining techniques, massive existing transportation infrastructure, and more than 600 electrical power plants the can use the fuel, coal is often seen as a cheap and available alternative to high priced natural gas or oil, unreliable alternatives like wind or solar, or confusing and “scary” alternatives like nuclear power.
However, the backside of the coal story is not so good, unless it is being spun by industry supporters. With its well-funded media and political machine, the coal industry seems to be able to deflect a lot of criticism by merely saying that it plans to think about ways to burn coal more cleanly, that it might figure out a way to sequester CO2 sometime in the future if the taxpayers give it enough money for projects like FutureGen, and that it will “reclaim” areas damaged by coal mining operations by perhaps building a few golf courses on the flattened mountains and valleys that are left behind.
If you want to read a slightly different point of view about the effects of coal mining, I highly recommend that you click on over to Jennifer Oladipo’s excellent Pine Magazine article titled The Southern Appalachians – America’s Spare Batteries
The industry’s apologists also deflect criticism of those mine safety issues that you occasionally read about. Here is how the US government’s Mine Safety and Health Administration describes an industry whose best year ever in terms of US occupational deaths is 22 people in a single year.
Since the earliest days of mining, the job of digging coal and other useful materials out of the earth has been considered one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. Public concern about the toll of deaths, injuries and destruction in mine accidents has prompted passage of much-needed safety legislation and intensified the search for safer methods and improved training practices and technology. Growing cooperation among industry, labor and government also has contributed to making mining safer and more healthful, especially in recent years.
As a result of these initiatives, mining deaths and injuries have significantly declined in this century, although even the current relatively low injury numbers and frequency rates are still unacceptable to safety professionals in the American mining community and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
Source: MSHA’s web page titled – Injury Trends in Mining
It is nice to know that the injury numbers are unacceptable, but it is interesting how much positive spin is placed on the situation before you get to that comment.
As an aside, I wonder when the above page is going to be updated? The last date range on its summary of safety statistics on its “fact sheet” is 1991-1999, though the MSHA has a full set of statistics available on its web site at Mine Injury and Worktime Quarterly Statistics – Coal Data. I suppose that a patient and careful researcher can pull together sufficient background information for a news story from the individual sheets on that page, but I would bet that most will simply look at the fact sheet.
Alternatively, they could check out this graph: