- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) A federal study warns that current rates of mining could deplete deposits of easily accessible coal in the Appalachian Basin in less than two decades.
The U.S. Geological Survey study of five Appalachian coal beds released last Thursday says mining companies would have to dig deeper, would find less coal and would mine coal with higher sulfur content than that now being extracted.
But scientists and a mining group countered that the basin, one of the world's largest reserves, has plenty of coal left 66 billion tons. The basin includes parts of Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Alabama.
They say the basin will continue to be the prime fuel source for eastern U.S. power plants.
"The resource is huge. But the coal is deeper, more expensive to mine and you have an issue with sulfur," says Leslie Ruppert, a federal geologist who led the study. "But I don't envision a time when [mining companies] will say 'We are going to mine out West.'"
The West, particularly the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, is the nation's other important coal source.
In 2000, the most recent year for which figures are available, 420 million tons of coal were mined in Appalachia, Miss Ruppert says. The Powder River Basin produced 368 million tons that year.
Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, says the findings don't worry the industry.
"What [federal geologists] said generally was that only a third of this reserve has been mined," she says. "I think it's more of an issue of whether technology will keep pace."
Sulfur content in coal is an important consideration for mining companies and utilities.
The federal Clean Air Act requires coal-burning plants to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide and other harmful substances in smokestack emissions to better control haze and acid rain and curb respiratory illnesses in tens of thousands of Americans.
Western coal has sulfur content of less than 1 percent while Appalachian coal has amounts as high as 7 percent.
Miss Ruppert says utilities still could use high-sulfur coal extracted from Appalachia as long as they install scrubbers and use other technology to clean their emissions.
Power companies say they are doing that already, though environmentalists argue that technology can't completely eliminate pollution from coal-fired plants.
Anna Aurilio, legislative director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, says the findings should prompt policy-makers to encourage alternative fuel sources. Environmentalists frequently cite solar and wind power as viable options.
Carbon dioxide from burning coal and other fossil fuels is blamed for rising temperatures worldwide, what scientists call the greenhouse effect.
"I think the biggest reason that we ought to be thinking about shifting away from dirty fuels like coal is the public health and global warming problems," Miss Aurilio says. "We have the technology today to generate energy cleanly and renewably and the cost of that technology has come down over time."

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