Coal in the United States

(Some vital statistics presented by the Louisville, KY, Courier-Journal, April 19-26, 1998, accompanied by editorial comment.

-- All prices in US dollars.)


The average price for coal has dropped from $40.60 to $16.63 per ton between 1980 and 1996, due to cheap strip-mined coal from Wyoming selling for $6 a ton.

So to compete with this $6 a ton coal, we have to tear up our West Virginia mountains? Destroy communities? Acidify steams?

The number of underground miners [in Kentucky] fell from 30,581 to 12,876 in the same period, a 58% drop.

The number of black lung deaths declined from 2753 per year to 1478 per year in nearly the same period (1981-94), a 46% drop.

Lets do a little math here. Back in 1980 when Kentucky had 30, 581 underground miners, the number of deaths from black lung was 90 persons for each thousand workers! In 1996 the number of black lung deaths is 114 per thousand! These percentages are staggering even when one considers that most of these black lung deaths were likely from those who worked years before meaningful protective legislation was enacted. The proportional increase in black lung deaths over this sixteen year span of time is also troubling. Could it be that the chance of a miner coming down with black lung is even greater now than it was back in 1980?

Impossibly low dust readings of 0.1 mg per cu. meter of air account for 10 to 21% of dust tests returned to the government.

So falsification of coal dust readings must be epidemic in the industry. This is pretty good proof that the lack of enforcement on the part of government officials is the rule rather than the exception. Coal companies would not falsify coal dust readings if they knew they had a good chance of getting caught. paying huge fines and risking getting shut down.

The chance of developing silicosis, a virulent form of black lung, after 20 years of working at a strip mine is 61%.

Do strip miners know this? Does the West Virginia Department Environmental Protection, or the West Virginia Department of Health, or the United States Bureau of Surface Mines or the United States Office of Safety and Health alert strip miners on the job of the risks in this business or work to make the mining industry less dangerous in relation to the development of silicosis?

Non-union mines often skimp on safety precautions; 21% of such mines return impossibly low dust tests from working areas of the mines, compared to 6% of union mines.

So it appears that a non-union miner is trading a lot more of his longevity for his pay, and in most case a very significantly lower pay, than does a union miner? Non-union miners were a rarity a few decades ago in West Virginia. Instead of Baldwin-Felts thugs that coal companies used years ago to keep the miners maximally exploitable, now coal company exploitation of the miners is done with clever psychology and propaganda designed to keep them hoodwinked as to the real consequences of the occupation.

Under Kentucky's 1997 workers compensation law, 0.9% of 538 applicants received black lung disease benefits, while 79.6% of 5,604 received benefits in the years 1994-96.

In 1996 there were:

53,796 underground coal miners
29,666 surface coal miners
885 underground coal mines
1,018 strip mines
1.06 billion tons of coal produced
$20 billion in coal revenues

The trend is for more strip mining and less underground mining - under existing permitting regulations and/or practices in many cases the coal companies can get coal out cheaper by stripping off the landscape than by going underground for it. They can use large equipment which means hiring less miners to get out equivalent amounts of coal. Strip mining means loss of mining jobs, it's as simple as that. And it has yet to be proven that the moonscaped land can ever be "reclaimed" in the sense that the land may in 50, 100, or 200 years be approximately returned to the condition it was before it was stripped.

Electric utilities consume 89% of all coal to meet 22% of America's energy needs.

74% of sulfur dioxide emissions come from coal burning.

It has been estimated that we in the US could get along on 25% of the energy we use now if known energy savings methods were put in place without loss of quality of life. So why isn't this happening? You guess! Companies like American Electric Power would rather further pollute our air and create more acid rain, and run more high voltages lines through pristine forests and fields than to call seriously for conservation methods (which would, of course, impact their short term profits).