This editorial is part of our GREAT DEBATE feature ‘What Resource Do We Most Need For Our Future?‘
The world’s appetite for all energy sources is growing—especially for coal.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal is the largest domestically-produced source of energy. While coal is used in many industries, including steel, cement, and paper, it is most important in the production of electric power. Coal accounts for nearly half of all electricity generated in the United States, where it’s burned in power plants to produce steam that rotates turbines.
Coal consumption isn’t only increasing in the United States. A recent report by the International Energy Agency found that coal accounted for half the increase in global energy use over the past decade.
Although coal is an attractive fuel source due to its relative low-cost, reliability, and plentiful supply (the U.S. is home to the largest coal reserves in the world), the combustible black rock produces more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than oil or natural gas. In 2010, coal made up 35% of total U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.
Today, growing political pressure and stricter EPA regulations to curb the amount of pollution released into the air from coal-burning power plants pose economic and technical challenges to the future of the coal industry.
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