One resource that America is very dependent on is coal. Coal is such an important energy source because it allows for a cheap way to process energy into electricity. Coal has been used for many years and will be used for many years still to come. Mining coal is very prevalent in Appalachia Kentucky. “The Appalachian region of Kentucky has long been dependent on the rich coal mines that dot the landscape”(Roenker).
Coal is a rock like substance and is a non-renewable source, meaning it cannot be grown or generated. Even though coal is a non-renewable source, there is an abundance of the material. Coal has many uses, but is most commonly known for producing energy, which is converted into electricity. Vital to Kentucky’s economy, coal provides electricity and employs many people. Coal has been used in Kentucky for over two-hundred and fifty years. A man named Dr. Walker is considered the first man to find coal and put it to use in Kentucky, “In 1820 the first commercial mine, known as the “McLean drift bank” opened in Kentucky”(Education). This just goes to show how long Kentucky really has been in the mining industry.
According to Mr. Roenker, Kentucky is one of the top three producers of coal in the United States. Kentucky produces over one-hundred and ten million tons worth of coal per year. Kentucky not only uses coal in its state, but also exports coal to other states. Kentucky does this because, it is one of the major producers of coal and the other states are very coal dependent. Kentucky ships to over twenty-six states. While Kentucky sees the importance of helping the other states out, Kentucky also realizes how important the coal industry is to its own state’s economy.
Kentucky is second to West Virginia, in mining coal out of the Appalachian region. Kentucky is a widespread coal state but is commonly split in to two parts. Mr. Roenker says, Western and Eastern Kentucky are the main producers of coal in Appalachia Kentucky. Eastern is the larger producer of the two. Coal mining has affected Kentucky in many ways. Some believe that mining coal effects Kentucky in a negative way, while others believe coal is highly beneficial. I believe that coal mining in Kentucky is mostly looked down upon, when in reality it should be praised. The positive effects of coal, the organizations who are pro-coal, and the organizations who are anti-coal clearly prove how important coal is in the state of Kentucky.
Steve Beshear, the governor of Kentucky, stated at an environmental conference that, “Kentucky is a coal state, and this is a coal Nation” (Gardner). Although many Kentuckians disagree on mining coal, most of them agree on the importance of coal to the state of Kentucky. However, some still argue that coal is a bad product and should not be mined. I interviewed with Dr. Richard Sweigard who is a professor at the University of Kentucky, and has over thirty years of experience with coal. Dr. Sweigard said that, “People are somewhat misguided. They understand the effects of coal, but are unwilling to see the greater good”. Kentuckians believe that Kentucky should not be a coal state because it is believed that coal has some serious negative effects. Coal has brought up many controversies in the political world concerning environmental and health issues. Issues concerning things like breathing coal dust, mountain top removal, and pollution. Beyond Coal, which is an anti-coal organization states on their website, “Coal harms communities and public health at every step of its use – from mining the coal to burning it to storing the leftover toxic waste”. This goes to show that there are groups of people rising against the coal industry in Appalachia Kentucky and across the United States.
Beyond Coal is just one of many anti-coal organizations that believe coal has bad effects on the environment and health, yet the members cannot provide any alternative to produce electricity for the same cost. Beyond Coal and other similar organizations have branches all across the nation, including a few branches located in Kentucky. This organization has tried many times to protest major coal mining companies in Appalachia Kentucky. For the most part these organizations protests do fail, but they do have some success. Beyond Coal spends most of their time trying to convince the smaller companies that coal mining is bad for the environment. Beyond Coal even tries to reach schools telling them about the reasons they believe coal is bad. For instance, they took a visit to the University of Kentucky, to try and make a stand against teaching about coal mining.
The first issue that most of the organizations have against mining coal is the effect that coal mining has on the environment. The main problem is mountain top removal. First, coal mining companies have to clear the area of trees by cutting them down; and then the real work begins. The process of removing the top of a mountain begins when the coal company mines a coal seam underneath the top of the mountain. After cutting through the mountain, the top of the mountain then falls behind the miners as they cut through. This angers anti-coal organizations because some of the waste falls down the mountain and into the valleys. This destroys the environment. In some instances, communities suffer damage but those are mostly “freak accidents”. Coal mining companies are supposed to “reclaim” the land that they mine, or restore the land they destroyed. These companies often do this by replenishing the animal life and planting new vegetation on the mountains. “The restored land of former mine sites in East Kentucky is among some of the most valuable land there”(Gardner). The coal mining companies are trying their best to mine one of the most important resources on our planet without causing commotion. However, the anti-coal organizations are reluctant to. They still cause problems for mining companies.
The second issue anti-coal organizations have with mining coal is that it supposedly affects the health of the surrounding communities. The belief is the burning of coal creates smog and allows mercury waste to fall to the ground, including rivers and streams. The anti-coal organizations believe that coal smog is the reason why kids contract asthma. According to Beyond Coal, “In the U.S., 1 out of 10 children suffers from asthma”. Along with coal smog, it is believed that mercury falls from the smoke and poisons the water. The polluted water then poisons the wildlife, which leads to human health issues because humans eat animals. Mercury is mostly dangerous to young kids and infants, causing serious brain damage and birth defects. These organizations like to believe they have facts proving this, but in reality it is all speculation. There is no factual information reinforcing the theory that smoke released from coal plants causes asthma and mercury poisoning. There have been a few studies, but for the most part, information is based off of personal studies. A personal study being, a person just makes a conclusion without any real information regarding the subject. Such as me stating,” That rubbing your hands together causes arthritis”, I have no factual information regarding the subject. Dr. Sweigard’s words regarding the matter, “Totally uncontrolled plants could have affects on the health of people, but there are too many regulations to keep that from happening”.
Larger organizations like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and smaller organizations, like Beyond Coal, have a stand against coal believing that it has negative effects on the environment. These organizations believe that coal has some importance, but they do not understand how vital it really is to the state of Kentucky, and the nation as a whole. These organizations are trying to invent new ideas to stop the use of coal and the alleged effects that it has on the environment. They mean well with their ideas, but what they do not realize is that the ideas that they propose are not cost efficient and do not produce the amount of energy like coal does. Yes, solar panels and wind turbines produce energy, but the amount of panels and turbines needed to produce the amount of energy that coal does is far too vast. The startup cost would be enormous and it would take years to “break even”. This would raise the low costing electricity that Kentucky provides her residents.
The cost of electricity for residents in the state of Kentucky is one of the lowest in the nation. Kentucky uses coal to generate electricity because it is very cost efficient. According to the Kentucky Coal Associations website, In Kentucky over ninety-one percent of the electricity generated in Kentucky came from coal. This is due to the fact that Kentucky can use their resources available. The coal is already in Kentucky, so the state can just use their own supply and save money. Unlike other states, Kentucky uses the efficiency of coal for the greater good. Some states cannot afford to use the amount of coal like Kentucky does so they turn to other sources to produce electricity like natural gas and petroleum.
I asked Dr. Sweigard, “How vital is coal to the state of Kentucky” he replied with, “Extremely, because of its direct and indirect impact. For instance, our robust Aluminum industry would not be possible without the low cost of electricity”. He went on to say that other businesses really benefit from the electricity costs. So coal not only provides jobs by the actual mining of coal, but it also creates jobs when businesses come to Kentucky for the low cost of electricity.
The Kentucky coal industry not only produces energy, but also creates jobs. The coal industry is taking care of the economy by putting people to work and by providing a low and cost efficient way for people to run their homes and business places. Coal mining aids the community by providing jobs with decent pay to individuals who have little education. “The coal mining industry frequently offers relatively high paying jobs to workers with low general skill levels…”(Roenker). Still, like any job, credentials do help with getting a little more pay and pull around the mine. Through the mining industry a person does not have to have a degree or be an engineer to make a decent amount of money to take care of their family. Mining provides a way for people to live the lives they want to live.
While anti-coal organizations inform people about the alleged bad aspects of coal, there are also pro-coal organizations. The two main organizations for Appalachia Kentucky are Friends of Coal and the Kentucky Coal Association. Although both organizations are both pro-coal and are similar organizations, they both have different jobs in teaching people about the coal industry.
Friends of Coal has branches in other states. The branch that is primarily for Kentucky is called Friends of Coal Kentucky (F.O.C.). F.O.C.’s website says that this is a volunteer organization, and to become of friend of coal is free. One of their slogans on their website is, “We do not want your “money”, we want your personal participation”. Because it is free to join, F.O.C. is primarily concerned with getting their members involved in their community and inform others about coal. The F.O.C. is a really big supporter of the University of Kentucky. You can see how much involvement this organization has if you have ever seen a UK football game or basketball game. The F.O.C. hands out a large amount of scholarship money so people can come to UK and study mining engineering and coal mining.
The F.O.C.’s mission statement on their website is, “Friends of Coal is dedicated to inform and educate Kentucky citizens about the coal industry and its vital role in the state’s future”. On their site, F.O.C. goes on to say how they want to create good jobs and stability so future generations will stay in the state of Kentucky and help keep the industry alive. But their overall goal is to provide a voice for the coal industry because of how vital it is to the state of Kentucky. Other than the F.O.C., there is no organization that voices their opinion against the anti-coal organizations.
The F.O.C. is a great organization. However, Dr. Sweigard thinks that “Friends of Coal only exists as a deterrent for the threat against coal”. Basically he is saying that F.O.C. is really just an organization to fight against anti-coal organizations like Beyond Coal and the EPA. He went on to say that if the threats like the anti-coal organizations did not exist, then Friends of Coal would not exist as well. Even though the F.O.C. is a good cause, the real organization that is the backbone for the coal industry is the Kentucky Coal Association. However, the Kentucky Coal Association is a large supporter of the F.O.C. because they deal with the political side of the coal industry.
The Kentucky Coal Association(KCA) is an organization dedicated to teaching about the history and the impact that coal has on the economy in Kentucky. Their mission statement is, “to provide effective leadership for the coal industry and ultimately to enhance the ability of the Kentucky coal industry to compete in domestic and world coal markets”. You can clearly see the difference in just the mission statements that the Kentucky Coal Association is more interested in the coal aspect of the coal industry. Whereas the F.O.C. is really just for the political aspect and used to fight off the anti-coal organization. The Kentucky Coal Asscociation believes that coal powers the state of Kentucky literally and figuratively.
Both the F.O.C. and the Kentucky Coal Association are striving to get the true facts about coal and the impact it has on Kentucky’s economy. Both organizations are trying show people that there have been problems in the past regarding coal mining, but with new technology these problems rarely exist anymore. They are trying to get the stubborn or “misguided” people to see the good in coal and how much Kentucky really depends on this product. They also are trying to reach out to the community in simple forms like TV commercials and sponsoring sports teams. While doing all of this, they are fighting other organizations who are trying stop coal mining in general.
Beyond Coal and the EPA are slowly trying to get rid of coal mining as a whole. They honestly believe that they have a remedy to replace coal. In reality there is no other resource that produce energy at the low cost like coal does. This battle has been waging on for years and so far the coal industry is still in the lead but the anti-coal organizations have won some battles. The coal industry has survived thus far and will continue to survive with new technology and safer work environments.
Both anti-coal and pro-coal have their points on why coal is important and whether or not it is hazardous to the environment and human health. The overall importance of coal is very obvious in both sides of the story. Even though anti coal organizations have provided alternatives, these alternatives have not been put in to action. These organizations realize that coal is cheaper to mine and turn into energy for electricity. Anti-coal coalitions, pro-coal coalitions, and the effects of coal clearly prove how important coal is to Appalachia Kentucky. “Kentucky is a coal state and this is a coal nation”(Gardner).