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August 1997, Vol. 120, No. 8
Coal produced in the Western1 States has increased in price relative to coal from other regions of the Nation. At the same time, employment in coal mining has been virtually unchanged in the Western States, while it has declined in most other parts of the country. Appalachia is still the countrys largest coal producer and employer, but a clear westward shift of coal mining is underway. Much of both the increased price for western coal and the stability of employment in western coal mining results from the low sulfur content of the areas coal, which has increased its desirability, environmentally speaking.
Legislative initiatives, including the New Source Performance Standards of 19712 and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990,3 created incentives for electric utilities to burn low-sulfur coal. The Nations largest source of such coal is in the West: the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.4 While other factors (relative freight costs, labor costs, production costs, regional variation in demand for electricity, competing energy sources) undoubtedly contribute to both the increase in prices received by western coal mines and the stability of mining employment in some Western States, much of the impact can be attributed to the demand for coal with low sulfur content.
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1 Producer Price Index (PPI) data for coal are published by Bureau of Mines (BOM) districts. Coalbeds do not always respect State boundaries, so some districts cross State lines. The publication categories for PPIs and the approximate State equivalents are as follows: West (BOM 1623)Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Alaska, Oregon, Washington; Midwest (BOM 912, 14, 15)Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri; South Appalachia (BOM 7, 8, 13)Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina; North Appalachia (BOM 16)Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan.
2 Bruce Ackerman and William Hassler, Clean Coal/Dirty Air (New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1981).
3 US Coal Reserves: An Update by Heat and Sulfur Content (U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 1993).
4 The Changing Structure of the US Coal Industry (U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 1993), pp. 2728.
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