Within a matter of years, easy-to-reach Appalachian coal will be depleted, the Associated Press reports.
While the coal industry is quick to blame environmental protections for its inevitable decline, the reality is that coal resources are becoming scarcer and more expensive to mine. Top level coal, which is easiest to reach and requires less invasive mining practices, is quickly running out—the Department of Energy estimates that in a little more than three years from now, coal mined in Appalachia will be less than half of that mined in 2008.
The coal industry’s reports to its investors show that reality—last year, Arch Coal, the nation's second-largest coal producer, reported that coal mining, “is in secular decline — faced with depleting reserves and significant regulatory hurdles."
While coal was never “clean;” its impact will only get worse in the coming years. As resources deplete, the coal industry has turned to more environmentally disastrous practices in recent years to maintain production levels. Mountaintop removal—a process in which the company literally blasts away an entire mountain, often resulting in polluted waterways and neighboring communities coated in thick, toxic coal ash—has become standard practice.
The report underscores an increasing need to move beyond coal, and quickly. As the industry turns more and more towards dirty, destructive practices to get the last bits of coal, it not only destroys the beautiful Appalachian landscape, but it also leaves the communities surrounding it decimated, polluted, and without a future.
With an industry, that will stop at nothing to squeeze the last dwindling bits of coal out of Appalachia, the truth has become abundantly clear: Coal is dirty. It’s running out. And, it’s time to move on.