Front Porch Blog

Farces of Coal

Another shiny coal industry front group. How authentic.

The coal industry PR generators must be running low on fuel, because they have been misfiring repeatedly over the course of the Summer, and it looks like they may have another false start with “FACES” (Federation for American Coal, Energy, and Security).

Who are they? Well nobody knows. Kate Sheppard at Grist asks, “who are the faces behind FACES of coal?”

Grist tried to find out more about FACES, as the website does not list members or funders. The only contact information listed is an email address, and our email inquiry bounced back.

Are there any actual faces behind FACES?

What are they saying? Definitely nothing new. Do their claims actually hold water? A quick look through their website basically shows a bunch of direct links to and quotes from the National Mining Association, so I decided to look at some of FACES’ “facts” to see if they stand up. The coal industry has paid Tennessee a lot of attention by publicly avoiding the state, and its my home state. So lets look at the “Faces of Coal” “US Coal and Tennessee” fact sheet.

Coal supplies half the electricity consumed by Americans.

False. Coal used to supply half the electricity consumed by Americans. Electric generation from coal is down to 42.6% in May of this year. That is a significant amount of energy, but its by no statistical stretch of the imagination “half.” The more inclusive “year-to-date” number for Jan-May 2009 puts coal down at about 45.4% of our electricity production and dropping.

Tennessee produced 2.3 million tons of coal in 2008.

True. However, this amounts to a 12% drop from the previous year, and totals just 0.19% of US coal production in 2008.

Tennessee powers Tennessee – Sixty-four percent of Tennessee’s electricity is generated from coal.

False and probably no longer true. As of 2007, zero percent of Tennessee’s electricity generation is generated from Tennessee coal. Coal consumption in Tennessee for 2009 is down 20% compared to the same time period in 2008, so I can’t imagine they could prove that 64% of TN electricity still comes from coal.

In 2007, coal mining in Tennessee generated about $2.9 billion in output.

This is a “National Mining Association” number. The most recent study (Hendryx, WVU) shows that coal contributes to about $8 billion in benefits to the Appalachian region. But it also notes that the costs to the region because of coal mining are around $50 billion, for a net loss of about $42 billion dollars annually. A study by MACED looked at inputs and outputs to the Kentucky state budget from coal mining. The study concludes that it actually costs the state a net loss of -$115 million dollars every year to keep mining coal.

Any more?

Tennessee families depend on coal mining for good jobs. – Coal mining provides jobs for the long-term.

Coal provides a few jobs in Tennessee, but they are definitely not long term. Again, the real picture is much more complicated than that. In reality, Tennessee has lost 75% of the mining jobs it had just 25 years ago.

Mining in Tennessee supports over 21,000 jobs, paying hundreds of millions of dollars in annual wages. – In Eastern Tennessee alone, coal mining employs more than 1,000 people.

If by “eastern Tennessee”, they mean “central” Tennessee (there’s no coal in the Smokies), then they are talking about ALL the coal mining jobs in Tennessee. Thats like saying that “there are hundreds of miles of ocean-front property in eastern North Carolina alone, and thats just at the beach!”

Coal mining jobs are well paid. The average wage for a coal worker in Tennessee is about $61,000, more than 10 percent higher than the average wage for jobs in other industries in the state.

Coal mining jobs may be well paid, but that’s not really the point. Brittany Spears is well paid, but that doesn’t mean I think what she is doing is beneficial to my community. As pointed by MACED for Kentucky, the results of coal-mining operations on the state budget of Tennessee are minimal at best and potentially negative. Coal mining is a relatively small industry in Tennessee, generating $67 million compared with tourism’s $14.2 billion. And the counties that have higher instances of mining have lower socioeconomic status, higher unemployment, and higher mortality than surrounding counties in Appalachia, as pointed out by Hendryx.

Tennessee invests in protecting the environment. Tennessee coal invests millions of dollars in coal mine land restoration, or reclamation, projects.

Reclamation is a critical part of the mining process. Commercial development, economic development, or even reforestation is better than just blasting apart a mountain, declaring bankruptcy, and bolting. The fact that Tennessee coal invests millions to reclaim the land they’ve destroyed is a good thing, but it definitely isn’t sufficient, and it definitely isn’t an improvement over what was there before. There is an abundance of “flat land” already available. In fact, around 1 million undeveloped acres of it which has been wrought by MTR. So, please feel free to build yourself a golf course on a mountain that is already destroyed and stop blowing up new mountains.

But I don’t think we should expect that much. According to the 2003 DEIS, less than 2-3% of land that is mountaintop removal mined is recovered in some kind of economic or commercial development

2003 EPA EIS, Appendix G, Land Use Assesment, page 43:

Given current and foreseeable future land use demands, it is unlikely that any more than 2 to 3% of the future post-mining land uses will be developed land uses such as housing, commercial, industrial, or public facility development.

Potential permanent impacts will likely include some resident population relocation due to close proximities of people and potential future mining.

So is reclamation important? Absolutely. But is the coal industry doing enough of it? Well…I’d say 97% no.

Mountaintop mining is a sophisticated mining technique that is the safest way…

Baloney. Coal mining is a dangerous job, and mountaintop removal mining transfers the dangers inherent in mining coal from the professional miner onto the surrounding communities. Secondly, there is not a lot of proof that surface mining is that much safer to the workers than underground mining. In 2008, according to MSHA, coal’s “non-fatal days lost” because of injury are almost even between surface and underground mining. 218 of 394, or 55% are from underground mining. 176 of 394, or 45%, are from surface mining. As the overburden ratio increases, and Btu decreases, surface miners are having to move larger amounts of earth to provide us the same amount of energy, increasing the dangers inherent in the operation. I the last few years, according to MSHA, surface mining fatalities have been increasing as a percentage vs underground mining and on-site fatalities.

But this is my favorite from “FACES”:

… and at times the only way – to mine coal near the surface in rugged terrain. It improves productivity and protects the environment.

Top officials at Patriot Coal are saying that “we can mine it underground.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, the estimated recoverable reserves in Appalachia are mostly classified as “underground” rather than “surface” mineable coal. Although in reality these are not mutually exclusive classifications, its still important to show that we can get at most of the coal by other ways than blowing the tops off of the mountains.

West Virginia: 87% underground, 13% surface.
Kentucky: 49% underground, 51% surface
Tennessee: 61% underground, 39% surface
Virginia: 78% underground, 22% underground

Yeah, FACES comes from a world where blowing up mountains and dumping the waste into streams (which even officials in the WVDEP are now saying harms water quality) is environmental “protection.” Sigh…

How I long to have their powers of denial (and their industrial allies’ money!)




AV Mountain border tan1

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Comment