Climate Change

Published on July 2nd, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


Coal Mining Costing West Virginia $97.5 Million

Despite the PR campaigns by the coal lobby that imply that the state relies on coal income, an analysis by The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy finds that actually coal cost the state of West Virginia more than it took in.

Only the direct costs to the state were tallied. The report did not attempt to estimate individual health or environmental “legacy costs” not borne by the state directly. Individual health costs caused by coal mining are carried by private insurers or individuals, as are the costs to repair damage to private land. The permanent loss of economic potential for tourism or fishing due to environmental destruction is not easily tallied and was not included.

Image: Flikr user walkerkim Abandoned_mine

Closed Mahoning Valley Mine

The costs tallied included only state expenditures, such as on road damage from coal trucks, additional workers compensation costs, and overseeing regulatory requirements.

Coal mine operators are walking away from nearly depleted mines; leaving polluted drainage, drinking water contamination, and health and safety threats. By 2009, fewer than 22,000 West Virginians worked in the coal industry, a record low. There are now 4,391 abandoned surface and underground mines in West Virginia, that will take $1.5 billion to clean up.

That cost to the state will only increase over the next decade. The amount of coal mined has decreased since 2000, as the remaining coal is becoming harder to get, leaving behind a national sacrifice zone.

However, these should be considered as the future holds a decline in revenue from coal, but an increase in legacy costs left behind. Will coal mine operators walk away from their responsibilities?

As mining declines in the future, the potential loss of state revenues will make it even more difficult to cover the annual and legacy costs of coal. Therefore, state policy related to energy and economic development — to the extent that it supports the coal industry — should be reconsidered, and new policies should be enacted that reflect the recognition of these realities.

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