The Future of Big Coal

Friday, March 07, 2014

In 2012 U.S. coal consumption fell to its lowest level in 25 years, and as Wall Street looks toward more sustainable energy—and with the abundance of natural gas—coal mining companies are struggling. But the industry is not going down without a fight. Richard Martin, Fortune magazine contributor, writes about it in his article “Big Coal’s Last Stand.”


Richard Martin

Comments [9]

Stephanie von Stein from Hastings on Hudson

I wanted to just make this correction to Richard Martin’s statement that the big international environmental groups are keeping mum on coal in China because “they are there at the grace of the Chinese government.” Grassroots Chinese groups ARE getting the support of international advocacy groups, which is important in that big international groups help raise the profile of the issue within and outside of China and help the grassroots groups access financial resources to more effectively conduct their grassroots advocacy. The anti-coal movement in China is alive and growing. The Chinese government itself is moving aggressively to develop alternative energy technologies because there is a growing consensus that coal-driven economic growth is unsustainable and the increasing pollution-related unrest could destabilize the country.

I recently moved on from my job as Asia Regional Coordinator with Waterkeeper Alliance. My last project for the organization was to network with the big environmental advocacy groups and environmental funders to raise funding and support for a grassroots coal pollution education and advocacy campaign to be run through Waterkeeper’s NGO partners in China. Because of my work, I came to know many of the big environmental advocacy players in China, and I have to let you know that Greenpeace, NRDC and even EDF are working intensively in China to raise awareness of the dire impacts of coal pollution and to reduce the health and environmental impacts there.

Greenpeace is doing the most aggressive work:

But the others are working on coal pollution mitigation projects (EDF works on carbon trading schemes, etc...) and NRDC is conducting high profile research and supporting regulatory changes in China to help control carbon emissions.

Thanks for devoting so much airtime to this important topic.

Mar. 07 2014 03:16 PM
oakshade from denville

Since we can't control mineral industries even here in the US, we can only hope to render fossil fuels obsolete for energy purposes. Our best path to that is to expand research & development of still more-efficient solar power, which we receive in great excess, free for the capture. Once solar is cheaper than fossil, there will be no need for it beyond raw material feed, minuscule by comparison. Also, government could increase incentives by both direct payments and forcing utilities to continuous reduction in the rate per kw of waste & pollution. Those both have huge costs in, e.g., human health, building maintenance, and river degradation.

Mar. 07 2014 01:01 PM
Jessie Lydia Henshaw from way uptown

It's a curious illusion, that with ever faster growing GDP consumption, the US energy use leveled off. It's only statistical, caused by counting US GDP consumed around the world and counting only domestic energy use. The energy consumed in buying products from elsewhere doesn't get counted, is the problem.

Nature still does her accounting the same way, however we fake our own, still holding us responsible for what we pay for, like a big share of China's ever faster growing energy use, for example. Legally we'd be responsible too, under tort law if it came to that, as paying for things really is causing them, and consuming the products.

Why would we use such a self-deceptive way of collecting and reporting the statistics? It's as if the data collection is highly politicized. That the clear reality (that we use our money to buy ever more energy uses while reporting the opposite) keeps being ignored. It seems to display an intent to hide it. The problem has been pointed out time and again, to, but just never raises a discussion. The "Kuznets" curves display the same false image, showing the advanced economies with declining energy use, with the really that their businesses and consumers are getting their energy needs served by others far from home...

You can see why it's so popular, and such a dangerous bet on as a path forward.

Mar. 07 2014 12:59 PM
Amy from Manhattan

What we can tell China is that we had to learn the dangers of coal the hard way, but they can learn from our history & expand their energy sources to more of their people in sustainable ways.

On mountaintop-removal mining, it was bad enough that coal companies could spread a thin layer of dirt on top of what's left of the mountains they destroy, plant a little grass (to supposedly replace the old-growth forests they blow up), & say they've "restored" the land! Now they're trying to portray blowing the tops off mountains as a good thing because people can plant crops there? Sheesh.

Mar. 07 2014 12:46 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Baloney. Before coal we chopped down a large percentage of our forests for fuel. Then came coal. Then came oil. Then came natural gas. And now much come solar, wind, geothermal and other renewals and give the earth a rest!

Mar. 07 2014 12:25 PM
Amy from Manhattan

The environmental concens about coal & other fossil fuels are the main issue for me, but what about communities whose economies depend on coal? Are there any prospects for a transition to some other source of income, both for their own benefit & so the opposition will have less of a basis for their "war on coal" attacks?

Mar. 07 2014 12:23 PM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

Another problem with coal extraction and especially its use as fuel for thermoeletric plant generation:

_Enormous water requirements._

The strong link between energy and water is called the Energy-Water Nexus:

Case in point is the high water use associated with carbon capture and sequestration technology - so-called "clean coal":

_The Water Cost of Carbon Capture_
Coal power's carbon savior could double its water woes

Mar. 07 2014 12:18 PM

@ jgarbuz from Queens - me too. The only reason we are not further along on clean, alternative energy solutions with plenty of good jobs is because "we think we CAN'T).

Mar. 07 2014 12:14 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I wish there were NO future for coal. Filthy, sooty planet-killer.

Mar. 07 2014 12:08 PM

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