The coal industry has always been a large producer of jobs in the United States. According to the 2015 U.S. Annual Coal Report published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, surface coal mining operations provide between 26,000 and 37,000 jobs in the United States.
Although coal jobs have certainly helped the U.S. economy over the last few decades, not everyone is excited about its future.
Coal is a very useful resource, but the environmental impacts it has on the U.S. and the entire world pose a serious threat that many are concerned about.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, burning coal impacts the world’s air, water, and land. Typical coal plants burn approximately 1.4 million tons of coal each year, causing serious harm to the environment. As of just a few years ago in 2012, there were 572 operational 500-megawatt coal plants in the United States alone.
When coal is burned, it causes smog, acid rain, soot, toxic air emissions (nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and more), and increased global warming.
Whether or not the coal industry comes back strong or continues to decline, the U.S. will certainly have to fight pollutants elsewhere. The discarding of plastic bags, for example, makes up more than 10% of all washed-up debris that ends up polluting the U.S. coastline. But coal is going to be at the center of the pollution battle for the foreseeable future.
Though President Donald Trump campaigned in favor of supporting the coal mining industry, environmentalist groups recently earned a major victory in the fight against this administration.
ABC News reports that a court casted doubt in mid September on an argument that blocking federal coal leasing won’t affect climate change because the coal could be minded elsewhere.
Environmental groups have spent years fighting for a block to federal coal leases on climate-change grounds but have not enjoyed much success at all. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, is now requiring the Bureau of Land Management to provide more data to support its claims that coal makes no net contribution to climate change after it’s burned.
“This is a major win for climate progress, or our public lands, and for our clean energy future,” said Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians. “This is big. And we’re certainly going to be wielding this and using it to confront other mining approvals both in the Powder River Basin and beyond.”
The coal industry, environmentalists, and even the current administration will have to wait and see what exactly is to come of these new arguments and legislation.