May 11, 2021

Setting the record straight: the case for coal


This archived article was written by: Nathaniel Woodward

As a preface, let me explain why I chose the title I did for this article. We live in a world full of amazing technologies and opportunities, however we also have a population that is growing irresponsibly fast which created several unique issues. Not the least of which is the incredibly rapid pace in which our global temperatures are rising and the repercussions of human-made climate change. The scientific community is not in disagreement, it’s our fault, period. The scientific conclusion isn’t up for debate, as much as politicians, including several local ones would have you believe.

The burning of fossil fuels is a necessary evil as we make steps to rid ourselves of the dependence as an energy source, a day that, like it or not will come. What I wish both sides of the argument would understand is that we are, and will likely for a long while, will be dependent on mining minerals to build the world we enjoy. The strongest case for coal should be, not in energy production, but in the harvesting of the rare earth elements we desperately need in the production of high-tech electronics.

The rare-Earth elements like scandium and cerium can be extracted from coal are critical components in everything from iPhones to HD televisions, and believe it or not, alternative energy sources like wind turbines and high efficiency electric car batteries. Regardless of your preferred sources of clean energy, we should be using coal mines. The question I find myself still wondering is why either side of the political aisle are so insistent on denying commonsense science-based solutions.

China produces over 90 percent of the world’s supply of rare-Earth elements and the only mine in the United States that exclusively mined them is closed. Chemical engineers at the U.S Department of Energy released a report detailing the worth of the rare-Earth elements currently sitting in settling ponds and coal ash, that number, billions. Billions of dollars of rare-Earth elements, already mined and ready to use.

Our economic need for these elements rises five percent every year, and, with a population growing unreasonably fast, we must keep up with the demand while we sort through the policies that will shape our eventual destiny as a specie.

If I could give any advice to local and state leaders worried about our mining economy, change your approach. Coal as an energy source will eventually be gone and fighting for the few scraps left over is only dividing us and suppressing the science that makes our lives livable. Research and invest our resources in using our mineral-rich geography in a way that keeps up with the pace of science. Again, science doesn’t care what you believe.

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