Coal Tattoo

Report: Mountaintop removal coal exports rising

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As House Republicans this morning begin another in a series of their hearings trying to somehow turn the federal Office of Surface Mining’s somewhat bumbling efforts to rewrite the stream “buffer zone” rule into an attack on jobs as part of the Obama administration’s alleged “war on coal,” House Democrats are taking a different approach. They’re releasing a fascinating new report that documents where an increasing share of coal from mountaintop removal coal mining is going.

The report, called “Our Pain, Their Gain: Mountains Destroyed for Coal Shipped Overseas,” concludes:

Coal exports have nearly doubled since 2009 to 107 million tons last year, now accounting for almost 12 percent of U.S. production. Three out of every four tons that are exported come from the Appalachian region, and often this coal is produced by mountaintop removal mining — a devastating practice that has blanketed communities with soot, contaminated drinking water, and destroyed 2,000 miles of streams.

Specifically, a review of government data by Democratic staff of the House Natural Resources Committee found:

— Ninety-seven mountaintop removal, steep slope, and surface mines in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Virginia exported American coal overseas in 2011, compared to 73 in 2008.

— Coal exports from surface mines in these four states have grown by 91 percent since 2009 to 13.2 million tons in 2011.

— Twenty-five  of these mines exported more than half of their production in 2011. And six of these mines exported nine out of every 10 tons they produced last year.

— Overall, these 97 mines exported 27 percent of their production in 2011. In 2008, mines participating in the export trade sent 13 percent of their production overseas.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and the committee’s ranking Democrat, just told this morning’s hearing:

While coal companies are more than happy to ship this coal overseas to the highest bidder, it’s surely the Appalachian people who bear the greatest cost.

UPDATED:

It’s important to remember that exports still make up a small share of coal production, nationwide and in the Appalachian region. As the report notes, even after doubling since 2009 to 107 million tons, exports still account for only 12 percent of U.S. coal production. While this is obviously an imporant trend, it’s far too early to — as anti-mountaintop removal activists are doing today — proclaim that this type of mining is mostly aimed at helping other countries.