Letter: True cost of coal needs to include coal ash – Billings Gazette Sept. 1, 2013

September 3, 2013

Categories: Climate change, Coal, Coal ash, Congress, Fossil Fuels, Letters


Coal is not profitable! There were no bidders for 149 million tons of publicly-owned coal in the Powder River Basin on Aug. 21. Cloud Peak Energy CEO Colin Marshall concluded that the coal was not economically recoverable.

This same week, two coal market experts, Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado and Tom Sanzillo, a New York-based energy consultant, speaking in Helena asserted that the federal coal leasing program has shortchanged taxpayers by $30 billion over the past three decades.

The Bureau of Land Management determines a “fair market value,” but there’s a loophole that allows coal companies to pay lower royalties by selling to a subsidiary and then reselling coal for higher prices in Asia. Why should we subsidize coal going to China?

The true cost of coal needs to include the coal ash: 500 pounds of coal dust comes off each railcar during the trip to the west coast — more than 30 tons per train on average. Coal dust exacerbates sinus and lung problems, as well as contaminating rivers killing fish and adding toxins to our drinking water.

The true cost should include trains disrupting the traffic in towns, especially slowing emergency response vehicles across the tracks.

Paul and I put a solar panel on our roof this summer; electric bills are $5.50 a month. It’ll take seven years to pay for our investment. And we’re not polluting.

Let’s decarbonize and decentralize our energy!

Betty Whiting


220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154