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The future of coal, by Robert Bryce.
A coal mine near Gillette, Wyo., is one of the most productive in the world. A Peabody Energy official said mining could continue here for easily five more decades.
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AUSTIN, Texas--Standing in the dispatch office of the North Antelope Rochelle Mine near Gillette, Wyo., Scott Durgin pointed at a flat-panel display. The regional vice president for Peabody Energy smiled. The most productive coal mine in the world was on target. Since midnight, about one train an hour had been loaded, each carrying about 16,000 tons of coal.
I asked Durgin how long Peabody could continue mining in the region. Easily for five more decades, he replied. "There's no end to the coal here."
The Peabody mine, along with the about 1,300 other coal mines in the United States, is being threatened. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule that, if enacted, would in effect outlaw the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States. The EPA's motives are clear: It wants to shut down coal plants, which emit lots of carbon dioxide.
But the EPA and the Obama administration know their attack on coal is little more than a token gesture. The rest of the world will continue to burn coal, and lots of it. Reducing the use of coal in the United States may force Americans to pay higher prices for electricity, but it will have almost no effect on climate change.
There's no denying that coal has earned its reputation as a relatively dirty fuel. On one particularly nasty day in London in 1812, a combination of coal smoke and fog became so dense that, according to one report, "for the greater part of the day it was impossible to read or write at a window without artificial light." About 200 years later, the New York Times reported that in Datong, China, known as the City of Coal, the air pollution on some winter days is so bad that "even during the daytime, people drive with their lights on."
Air pollution is only part of the coal industry's toll. It damages the Earth's surface with strip mines, mountaintop removal, and ash ponds at power plants. In addition, thousands of workers die each year in coal mines.
FOCUSING ON CO2