, Corbin, KY


June 21, 2013

Coal exports unleash worldwide economic power beneath Kentuckians’ feet

CORBIN — When Mark Twain read his (obviously) premature obituary in the New York Times, he famously quipped: “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Now more than 100 years later, some of Kentucky’s most radical environmentalists have read the tea leaves concerning the recent loss of thousands of coal-mining jobs in Kentucky and are gleefully gearing up for a celebration of the industry’s demise.

But they might want to put away the party hats. Coal, including coal mined in Kentucky, isn’t going away. Instead, it’s going to other countries.

A new report compiled for the National Mining Association states that a record 107 million short tons of U.S. coal were exported in 2011.

So while Kentuckians continue to enjoy the direct benefits of Kentucky coal – like cheap energy rates and the jobs they provide in the energy-intensive aluminum and stainless steel industries, we also are reaping some mountain-sized indirect benefits as huge amounts of black rock are shipped to places without an EPA.

According to that mining association report, Kentucky not only contributed 7 percent of the nation’s total coal exports in 2011 but also reaped 7 percent of the record 140,000 coal export-related jobs created in 2011.

And I’m sure the party poopers will be disappointed to know that the economic benefits related to these exports don’t appear headed for a slowdown any time soon.

State statistics show that coal-exporting activity proved even more lucrative to Kentucky’s economy in 2012. By the time Kentuckians rang in the most recent New Year, we had exported $73.5 million worth of coal – an incredible 78 percent more than in 2011.

Trends show that America’s coal exports will continue to increase. The International Energy Agency reports that by 2017, coal will become the world’s largest source of energy with 1.2 billion extra tons of coal consumed each year during the next five years.

It could all be reasonably considered a win-win-loss for Kentucky, importing countries and the environment.

Because of lax environmental rules, abuses related to energy resources occur at unacceptable rates. However, considering the strides nations like China and India have made in implementing market reforms – often out-competing even the U.S. – why should we not be optimistic that as their markets demand more environmental responsibility, they will respond?

Considering the overwhelmingly positive impact that a flood of new coal-fired energy has had on the standard of living for the previously impoverished residents of East Asia and the Indian subcontinent, we can fully expect these nations to develop a balanced approach to weighing the environmental costs and economic benefits of their energy sector – an approach the EPA refuses to adopt.

Could it be that we have too many fanatical bureaucrats regulating our energy sector who reveal their particulate-free, sky-high levels of energy illiteracy by insisting that the exceedingly speculative and far-into-the future costs of increased carbon emissions trump all – no matter the benefits to their fellow human beings?

Those with a more humanistic viewpoint see the way Kentucky is contributing to the growth of human welfare in developing regions of the world as a beautiful thing.

The increase in Asian coal demand and the growth of these economies during the past decade demonstrate that no people need Kentucky’s most valuable resource as much as developing nations – and Kentuckians deserve the jobs and economic rewards such contributions offer.

Jim Waters is vice president of policy and communications for the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

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