Coal Costs More Money Than It Creates in W. Virginia

photo mountaintop coal removal west virginia
Credit: Sierra Club

Things that make you go "duh," right? A study in West Virginia, the nation's second-largest coal-producing state, says that the coal industry is a loser when it comes to providing money for the state budget. The industry brings in about $600 million in revenues a year, but costs the state another $97.4 million. That's according to a study by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and a firm called Downstream Strategies.

The extra costs include money spent repairing roads damaged by heavy coal trucks, along with tax credits and exemptions, the AP explains.

Nothing is mentioned about the costs of health care, climate change, mountaintop removal or dead miners. The study authors say the West Virginia Legislature should revisit the tax breaks, and hike hauling fees on trucks from 8 cents to $2.80 per ton.

The report also recommends hiking the severance tax on mined coal from 5 to 6 percent, and sending most of an annual $75 million in money raised to coal-producing counties. Not exactly a plan for the future, to wean the state off of coal and prepare for a day when federal carbon regulations put more of a tarnish on West Virginia's state rock.

Of course, there's debate over the report from (cough) Marshall and West Virginia universities. Cal Kent, a Marshall researcher who served in the Energy Department under the first President Bush, says the report doesn't account for property tax revenues and short-changes the benefits of severance taxes and tax exemptions. The estimate from a previous study by the two universities is that coal brings in $490 million in net revenues for West Virginia. Wyoming, America's top coal producer, doesn't impose any property taxes on land used for coal mining.

Again, the word "environment" isn't even included in a story on the two reports. There are unaccounted for additional costs, however, from "played-out surface mines that await cleanup." Here's a stat to insert: Total charges for asthma hospitalizations in West Virginia increased from $10.3 million in 1996 to $23.2 million in 2005. Sure, not all of those can be attributed to coal, but fossil fuels sure as heck aren't improving asthma rates. There are more than 40 coal-fired generating units in West Virginia, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Here's another tidbit, in case you think coal is the only saving grace for West Virginia: Only 3 percent of the state's employment relies on the coal industry, and mining in the state had its last peak in 1997.

More on Coal
Senator Robert Byrd Threatens West Virginia Coal Companies
What Happens After Coal for West Virginia Mountaintop Miners?
Coal Becomes West Virginia's State Rock

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