The Instigator
Pro (for)
The Contender
Con (against)

The United States should maximize production in coal.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/12/2016 Category: Economics
Updated: 1 week ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 88 times Debate No: 96059
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (1)
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Thank you for your interest in opposing my stand on this matter. I believe the united states should maximize its coal production, assuming massive growth in the economy to follow. Many coal miners have lost their jobs, plants and mines have shut down, and the United States has lost its independence in energy production.


My thanks to Pro for instigating this debate. Pro hasn't offered much in the way of specifics as yet but since this is only a 3 round debate, I'll launch right in.

Pro proposes that the US maximize coal production but doesn't explain how maximization ought to be induced or define what maximum output would look like (I.e. How many mines delivering how many tons of coal to how many power plants at what price, etc.). The current demand for coal is crashing even though the price of coal is cheaper than dirt. No really, a ton of Appalachian coal is currently selling for $40; a ton of fill dirt goes for roughly $200. At those prices, how does Pro propose to motivate mining interests to prospect new mines or re-open existing mines? We could artificially increase the price of coal but that would increase short-term energy prices and drive demand for coal down so fast as to make new investment pointless.

Pro assumes that over-production of coal will trigger massive growth in the economy. How? We might drive down energy costs somewhat which ought to stimulate some sectors of the economy, but overall energy costs are already relatively low. On the other hand, lower energy costs inhibit new energy investment and disincentivizes the kinds of real efficiency improvements necessary for sustainable, clean, independent long-term energy solutions. Certainly, mining, burning, and storing coal is highly toxic and polluting so over-production would boost the hazardous waste and healthcare industries, but in the least desirable and efficient way. Are there any economic studies (not supplied by the coal industry) that forecast major economic growth as a result of coal over-production?

Pro notes that as a result of low demand, coal burning plants and mines have shut down resulting in lost jobs. Con argues that however difficult such closures must be for proximate communities in the near-term, the long-term net benefits are undeniable.

Coal mining in general is a highly undesirable job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the industry as the second most dangerous [1]. Coal mining communities in Appalachia have the lowest life expectancy and the highest cancer, lung, and heart disease rates in the nation.[2]. Although mining jobs are often among the highest paying jobs in mining communities, the average salary of $42,000 is $4,000 less than the National average.

Further, there's no reason to expect any real boost to employment however much we increase coal production. Improvements in automation have steadily driven down the demand for miners irrespective of cyclical booms in coal production. The demand for coal miners peaked at 798,000 in 1923 [3] and has dropped an average 7,500 jobs/ year over 90 years to the 2014 number of 83,000 [4] Technological revolutions in robotics and autonomous vehicles have already given rise to vehicles that can drill, blast, break, and haul coal at costs that will force rapid replacement of human miners. [5] 20 years from now, the few jobs left in coal mining will belong to programmers and engineers, jobs for which experience in mining will have little application. In the meantime, almost all new hiring in mining will be for the benefit of laying off higher salaried miners, driving down the value of human labor in the industry. In short, coal mining jobs are gone for good, irregardless of any energy policy, and that loss is to the national benefit.

Pro states that the US has lost its energy independence, suggesting that over-production of coal might decrease that dependency but Con sees little evidence to support such a claim. Yes, we import 3% of our coal from Columbia but only because ships can supply some coastal cities at half the cost of trains from the interior. Generally, we already have more coal than we want or need and over the past 8 years US dependency on foreign oil has dropped almost as precipitously as the demand for coal and for the same reasons- innovations in domestic gas, shale, and oil extraction and steep declines in the start-up costs of wind and solar.

In spite of decreases in coal production, the US has reduced foreign dependency on oil from a peak 65% of daily energy demand in 2005 to a 45 year low of 28% in 2015. If current trends persist, Raymond James anticipates that dependency on foreign oil will be down to 11% by 2020, a dependency that could be reliably supplied by Canada and Mexico alone.

The US Energy Information Administration links energy independence to the price of oil, projecting that if market forces remain static the US would be close to independent by 2040 but if oil prices return to $100/barrel prices, the US could achieve independence as early as 2022. [6]. So dependence is less a question of how much we have in terms of resources, than it is at what price are those resources worth extraction. Overproduction of unwanted coal could only drive energy prices lower and therefore slow down US progress towards energy independence.

Lastly, and most obviously, coal is the most polluting, carbon-intensive energy option available to the US. "Although coal generated less than 30 percent of the world's energy supply in 2013, it produced 46 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. A typical 500 MW coal power plant releases global warming emissions roughly equal to 600,000 cars."[7]
A typical coal power plant emits 14,000 tons of sulfur dioxide ( the cause of acid rain) into the air each year, 10,300 tons of NItrogen oxides (significant contributors to smog and respiratory disease), 170 lbs of mercury (1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury added to a 25 acre lake makes fish unsafe to eat), 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, trace amounts of uranium, 720 tons of carbon monoxide, 220 tons of hydrocarbons, and 225 pounds of arsenic each year. [8]. Although the IPCC has already established that humanity is in for a rough couple of centuries due to the impacts of climate change, we are still in a period when dramatic reductions in the production of greenhouse gases might prevent an extinction level event for humanity. No single change in energy policy contributes more to such a reduction than the rapid discontinuation of coal burning.

Con looks forward to Pro's more detailed proposals regarding maximum coal in the next round. At present, Con has seen scant evidence that maximizing coal production might improve the US economy, restore coal mining demand, restore employment in the mining sector or decrease US dependence on foreign energy. Although there may be some advantage to maintaining some portion of the present coal industry while the US ramps up new energy over the coming decades, there is no likely advantage to be found in any future increase. Coal as a future source of energy is unwanted, unneeded, inefficient, toxic, and dangerous to human health on any scale.

Debate Round No. 1
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Debate Round No. 2
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Debate Round No. 3
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by toocoolblue 1 week ago
I agree wholeheartedly with your position, but good luck getting it through to people who have been continuously misinformed.
Coal is the vehicle that can make America immune to the problems of the world. Every year we send hundreds of billions of dollars oversees for oil, to people who would like nothing better than to kill us all. And then we spend about a trillion dollars a year running a military to make the world safe for them to charge us as much as they can for oil.
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