Coal, a product of decay from plants older than 350 million years, is an integral part of energy production in the United States. Coal provides 56.9% of electricity generation in the United States. With many different types of coal found in different states, the U.S. remains second to Russia in the number of estimated worldwide coal reserves.Between the years of 1885-1950, coal was the most important fuel. One half ton of coal produced as much energy as two tons of wood and at half the cost. Even today, there is, on a Btu basis, about one hundred times as much energy in the coal reserves of the United States as there is in either the oil or natural gas reserves. But coal is also a rather variable energy substance as the different ranks, or measure of degree of change from the peat stage, affects the heating value and sulfur content of the coal.From low rank to high rank, the different types of coal are ordered as follows: lignite, subbituminous, bituminous, and anthracite. Low rank coal tends to have a smoky flame and easy ignition whereas high rank coal is known for its clean flame and difficult ignition.5 All of these types of coals can be found in three major United States regions known as The Appalachian Basin, The Illinois Basin, and the northern Great Plains and Rocky Mountain region.6

To recover coal from these significantly large coal reserves, workers use a process
called strip mining. By using this process, strip miners can recover all the coal in a deposit, and each worker achieves very high productivity, recovering 30-40 tons per worker per day. Sixty percent of coal in the United States comes from strip mining. 7 While strip mining was at one time a dangerous career choice, the coal mining industry is now recognized as one of the safest, with a lower rate of injuries and illnesses per 100 employees than the agriculture, construction or retail trades.8

A great problem with coal, which has lead to somewhat slow increases in coal production since 1920, has been the environmental impacts involved with surface mining, the effect of CO2 emissions on global climate, and health effects of SO2 and particulate emissions.9 In 1952 in London, England, 12,000 people died and many become ill due to high concentrations of SO2. With such a dangerous emissions involved with coal production, many federal regulations have been passed to prevent these types of problems and allow for the continuation of the production of coal.

Despite some controllable environmental difficulties, coal remains an essential energy resource for the United States, and the world. Coal is the most used resource for electricity production as nine of every 10 tons of coal used in the United States are for electricity generation.10 In round numbers, the estimated resource of coal in the United States will last 1500 years at our current consumption rate.11 With this type of availability, there is no doubt that coal will continue to be an important energy source.

Coal 7.5 of 10 on the basis of 1514 Review.