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Coal truck dumping
8.02.02
Science and Health:
The Cost of Coal
More on This Story:
Coal Facts and Folklore

Coal has been a major part of the consciousness of the industrialized world for centuries — it is, after all, King Coal. Everyone can conjure up images of the smoky, smutty streets of Dickens' London. We know coal miners and their struggles from D.H. Lawrence to HARLAN COUNTY U.S.A. Millions can hum along with "Coal Miner's Daughter." Just this week Americans watched and worried over the fate of men trapped far beneath the surface in a coal mine — it is the stuff of old legends and nightmares.

But as much as coal seems the stuff of the past it is the fuel of the present, and future. Coal production in the United States is up, and prices are down. Projections by International Energy Agency show coal's share of energy production growing. And, last month THE ECONOMIST labeled coal "Environmental Enemy No. 1." What role does coal play in the U.S. and the world — check out some of the facts below.

Coal in the U.S.

Percentage of the world's coal reserves located in the U.S.:  25%
Coal's percentage of U.S. energy reserves:  90%
Percentage of electricity in the U.S. generated by coal:  50%
Cost of a megawatt of energy produced by coal:  $20 to $30
Cost of a megawatt of electricity produced from natural gas:  $45 to $60
1980 U.S. coal production in million of tons:  890
2001 U.S. coal production in million of tons:  1,121
Percentage of coal production from surface mining, 2000:  65%
Percentage decline in coal industry employment 1986 to 1997:  -47.29%
Sources: The Energy Information Administration; Chadwick, John. "World Coal Report." MINING MAGAZINE. September 2002. 83; Smith, Douglas J. "No Energy Independence Without Coal." Power Engineering. Vol. 105, no. 4. 10; The Energy Information Administration (U.S. Government), "The U.S. Coal Industry in the 1990s"

Coal in the World

Top three coal producers in the world:  China, U.S., India
Top three users of electricity produced by coal:  U.S., China, India
Percentage of world electricity generated by coal, 1973:  38.3%
Percentage of world electricity generated by coal, 1999:  38.1%
Percentage of world fuel consumption represented by coal, 1973:  13.6%
Percentage of world fuel consumption represented by coal, 1999:  8.2%
Projected percentage of world fuel consumption represented by coal, 2010:  22.7%
Percentage of world fossil fuel reserves represented by coal:  78.5%
Sources: International Energy Agency: KEY WORLD ENERGY STATISTICS, 2001; The ECONOMIST

The burning of coal is viewed by many as an environmental danger because it releases several gasses into the environment, including, carbon dioxide or CO2. The matter of coal-burning plants, CO2 emissions and The Clean Air Act, are currently under debate in the United States Senate. (Track legislation on the Web)

Coal and the CO2 Issue

Percentage of the world's CO2 emissions from coal, 1999:  38.2%
Percentage of U.S. sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-burning plants:  60%
Percentage of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning plants:  31%
Percentage of U.S. mercury pollution from coal-burning plants:  32%
Sources: International Energy Agency: KEY WORLD ENERGY STATISTICS, 2001; THE ECONOMIST, Kahn, Jeremy. "Stop Me Before I Pollute Again." FORTUNE. 21 January 2002 , 87. Glick, Patricia. The Toll from Coal. National Wildlife Federation. 2000.

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