Markey says if coal is exported, it’s not worth the impacts of mining it

An analysis of coal mine data released July 19 shows that coal exports have “exploded” from Appalachian operations over the last few years, with some mines exporting 100% of their coal abroad.

The report, prepared by the Democratic staff of the House Natural Resources Committee, at the direction of Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., calls into question the benefits to America to allow “destructive mining practices” to continue if that coal is going to subsequently be shipped to foreign nations like China, said Markey in a July 19 statement.

The report, “Our Pain, Their Gain,” analyzed data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, and included self-reported data from the mines themselves.

Some of the top findings of the report include:

  • The number of mountaintop removal, steep slope and surface mines exporting coal from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Virginia increased from 73 mines in 2008 to 97 in 2011.
  • Coal exports from these mines in these four states have grown by 91% since 2009 to 13.2 million tons in 2011.
  • 25 of those mines exported more than half of their production in 2011. One Russian company (Mechel OAO) is exporting nearly 83% of the coal from three mines in southern West Virginia, and five mines are shipping 100% of their coal abroad. OAO Severstal, another Russian company, shipped 699,000 tons of coal from Mine No. 1, nearly half of the coal produced by the mine in Somerset County, Pa.
  • Overall, these 97 mines exported 27% of their production in 2011, more than doubling from 13% exported in 2008.

“American families are being subjected to coal mine pollution and damage, just so exports to China and other foreign nations can increase,” said Markey, who is the Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee. “The coal may be shipped to foreign markets, but the diseases, the destroyed mountaintops, and the environmental ruin from these destructive practices are staying right here in America.”

The report, said Markey, comes as Republicans and the coal industry are attempting to beat back safeguards that would protect communities from coal mining pollution, including a hearing July 19 by the Natural Resources Committee Republicans to attack rules that would protect streams and drinking water from mining operation pollution. “The export issue is not isolated in the Appalachian region, as coal companies mining in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming are angling to vastly increase coal exports,” the Markey statement said.

Coal exports have nearly doubled since 2009 to 107 million tons last year, now accounting for almost 12% of U.S. production, the report noted. Three out of every four tons that are exported come from the Appalachian region, which produces the kind of high-quality metallurgical coal most coveted by offshore customers.

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining is now evaluating options for a new Stream Protection Rule that would protect Appalachian communities from the consequences of mountaintop removal mining, the report said. “As this rulemaking goes forward, we would do well to remember: While mountaintop removal mines are happy to sell to the highest foreign bidder, it’s the Appalachian people who are paying the steepest price for this coal that America no longer uses,” it added.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.