The Water–Energy Nexus in the American West

The Water–Energy Nexus in the American West

Edited by Douglas S. Kenney and Robert Wilkinson

The nexus between water and energy raises a set of public policy questions that go far beyond water and energy. Economic vitality and management of scarce and precious resources are at stake. This book contributes to the body of knowledge and understanding regarding water, energy, and the links between the two in the American West and beyond.

Chapter 3: The Coal Conundrum

Kristen Averyt

Subjects: environment, climate change, energy policy and regulation, environmental geography, environmental law, water, law - academic, environmental law


Kristen Averyt INTRODUCTION Despite the attention given to clean and innovative energy technologies, coal remains ‘king’ in many communities, not only in terms of its contribution to America’s energy portfolio, but as an enduring cultural influence. Many communities – including those of major urban centers along the eastern corridor, small mining towns in Appalachia and on the Colorado Plateau, and tribal lands in the West – have been and continue to be defined by industries dependent on coal. But just as America is dependent upon coal, coal is dependent upon water resources. Nowhere is this relationship more delicate than in the western United States, where coal yields have been climbing while water availability concerns grow. Further complicating the coal–water relationship are questions of pollution, to both water and air, and regulatory trends that increasingly favor other fuel sources, such as natural gas. The role that coal will play in America’s energy future remains an unsettled question, but whatever the outcome, it will undoubtedly have significant implications for western water resources. 3.2. THE CULTURE OF COAL The origin of commercial coal mining in the US can be traced back to the mid-1700s in Virginia. But coal was not established as a socioeconomic linchpin in the US until 1830, when Tom Thumb – a coal-powered locomotive – was introduced, prompting a fuel shift from wood to coal. As industry thrived and populations migrated westward, the demand for coal continued to grow, and mining operations began to emerge in the West. In 1889, Colorado was the...

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