Coal: 2009 in Review

By Kristin Tracz

End of the year ‘year in review’ reports pointed to the fact that no new coal plants broke ground in 2009, and Energy Information Administration data shows that total coal use is down, with coal consumption by the electric power sector down as much as 12% in the first three quarters of 2009 .

With the vigorous debate on the future of coal as a fuel source for electricity as well as a source of jobs across the region underway, Appalachian leaders are increasingly speaking out on both sides of the dividing line. The longest-serving U.S. Senator, West Virginia’s Robert C. Byrd, garnered significant media attention by releasing a statement entitled “Coal Must Embrace the Future” in early December.

Unofficially, some industry supporters have dismissed the seeming significance of Senator Byrd’s statement, attributing the message not to the Senator himself but to the meddling of staffers in Byrd’s office. However the official industry responses, as stated by the National Mining Association, offer tepid support for portions of Byrd’s statements—specifically those that recognize the essential role of coal in providing electricity nationwide—and stressing the need to protect coal jobs, in West Virginia in particular.

According to the Associated Press, Senator Rockefeller supported Senator Byrd’s call for an end to fear-mongering as a strategy, saying “There has been some pretty inflammatory statements from the coal industry, not all of it, just a few people, that is scaring the heck out of people in southern West Virginia,” Rockefeller said during a conference call to discuss U.S. Department of Energy funding for clean coal projects in West Virginia, Texas and Alabama. Such projects will keep coal vital, he said, not fear mongering. “This is really all about opportunity for West Virginia.”.

The debate shows no sign of slowing in the new year, with what promises to be a heated debate between Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and renowned environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. scheduled to be held January 21, 2010 at the University of Charleston. Access to the event will be restricted to ticketholders.

2010 promises to be an active year on coal issues, with dialogue, debates and demonstrations happening throughout Appalachia and across the country. The start of a new decade is an excellent opportunity to renew our focus on economic, employment and energy options for Appalachia—it is our hope that this website will serve as a resource to explore such options.

Jason Bailey

About Jason Bailey

Jason Bailey is Director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy and serves as Research and Policy Director of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development.