Yesterday, Congressman Ed Markey’s (D-MA) Natural Resources Committee staff released a report called “Our Pain, Their Gain: Mountains Destroyed for Coal Shipped Overseas.” It outlines how coal exports from Appalachia have been growing over the past few years. And, quite surprisingly, how some of the companies in the region export up to 100 percent of the coal that they mine.
As the report details:
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.
Some these exports are from mountaintop removal mines — one of the most destructive types of mining that destroys mountains in order to access the coal underneath. Already, mountaintop removal has flattened an area the size of Delaware and polluted more than 2,000 miles of streams.
As Markey’s report concludes:
While mountaintop removal mines are happy to sell to the highest foreign bidder, it’s the Appalachian people who are paying the steepest price for this coal that America no longer uses.
The use of coal in the United States is on the decline due to the rise of natural gas, a strong activist community, and new public health regulations making it difficult to keep old, dirty power plants open. But coal companies have seen exports as a way to continue growing. In fact, exporting coal is often more lucrative than selling it domestically.
Coal exports in other parts of the country are expected to increase, particularly from Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin. A number of companies like Peabody and Arch Coal are investing heavily in infrastructure like railways and new ports in the Pacific Northwest to ensure that this happens.
But one key difference between coal exports from the West and Appalachia is that the great majority of the coal in the Powder River Basin is owned by American taxpayers. Despite the accumulating evidence that coal mining has major environmental and health impacts, the U.S. Department of the Interior continues to offer major lease sales of our taxpayer-owned coal, knowing that much of could be bound for locations overseas.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.