Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Coal vs. the environment

This should get you warm, figuratively as well as literally. Frank Smecker at Vermont Commons reports on a coal mining practice known as "mountaintop removal" (MTR), in which entire tops of mountains are literally blown away to yield coal. As Mr. Smecker describes it, it is an environmentally horrible practice.

My question is, does the economic value of MTR really exceed the environmental cost? If we don't know, this points to the need for accounting standards to deal with the costs of cleaning up the environment, which should be part of the bookkeeping for every company that deals in an environmentally hazardous process -- coal companies being near the top of that list.

Ohio is heavily dependent on coal, both for electricity and for jobs in the southeastern part of the state. Since Ohio has no mountains, it is unlikely that MTR is done here. It is still important that Ohioans should continue to be vigilant to ensure that coal mining causes as little environmental damage as possible. And to ensure that coal miners and their families are adequately compensated in wages and health benefits, taking into consideration the nature of their work.

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