David Frum

05.06.13

Coal Still Isn't Dead

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images ()

The Wall Street Journal reports that coal is not finished yet, not at least in the Midwest.

Last year, overall coal production in the U.S. fell 7% from a year earlier, with the biggest decline in Wyoming's Powder River Basin and in Central Appalachia mines of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. But in the Illinois Basin, which includes southern Illinois and Indiana and western Kentucky, coal output rose by 10% last year, and the region over the next several years is projected to surpass Central Appalachia in coal output for the first time ever. New technologies are the primary reason for the boom. The Midwest boasts easily accessible deposits of coal that tend to be thicker than the more depleted eastern coal fields. Mining companies long ignored coal in Illinois and surrounding states because of its high sulfur content, but with utilities adding new equipment called scrubbers that remove sulfur to meet emissions standards, they can burn Illinois Basin coal more efficiently. It costs roughly half as much to dig coal out of the ground here as it does in Central Appalachia, industry analysts say