A LOOK AT THE CONSEQUENCES OF
APPALACHIAN COAL USE AND EXTRACTION
Coal has been a large source of energy for the past two hundred years, and
continues to be today. Even though mankind now knows about the environmental
impacts of coal, the world continues to use it in power plants and as a fuel for trains.
A majority of the energy in the United States comes from coal-powered power plants.
The Eastern United States surrounding the Appalachian Mountains and foothills is
known as Appalachia. This region of the U.S. has been a source of coal for the U.S.
and other regions of the world since the beginnings of coal extraction at the end of the
1700’s. Although coal is found in different regions of the world it is important to look
at Appalachia when studying the impacts of the demand for, extraction of, and use of
coal both on a local scale and on a global scale because this is where most of the
world’s coal once came from, and is still a source of coal today. The impacts of coal
also have an affect on other social, political, economic, and environmental
phenomena. There have been laws passed and agencies created to help cut-down on
the impacts of coal, but not enough changes have been made. There is a hope that in
the future there will be more substantial alterations made to the way coal is extracted
and used both in the U.S. and around the world.
Why is the Appalachian Mountain area of the U.S. rich in coal?
Where, how, why, and when has coal been extracted from Appalachia?
How is the demand for, extraction of, and use of coal related to other
factors such as human population growth, government policy, and
What can be done, and has been done, to moderate these problems?
Most people today will agree that the Appalachian Mountain area of the
eastern United States is rich in coal; but why does this area of the world have more
coal than say, Japan? It all lies in the geologic history of the Earth. Fossil fuels are
carbon rich because they are the pressurized, heated, time-enhanced remains of dead
plants and animals from hundreds of millions of years ago. Coal in particular is the
result of dead plants, such as ferns and trees from 300-400 million years ago, being
submerged in swamps and covered by soil and seawater. (U.S. Department of Energy
2008) This process, along with tons of rock, pressurized and heated the plants for
hundreds of millions of years, which then formed carbon-rich coal. Although the
eastern United States is not a sea or a large swamp now, that wasn’t the case hundreds
of millions of years ago when the plants that would one day become coal lived. That
is why this region of the world has plentiful coal deposits, because hundreds of