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BIG COAL by Jeff Goodell Kirkus Star

BIG COAL

The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future

By Jeff Goodell

Pub Date: June 8th, 2006
ISBN: 0-618-31940-9
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Energy crisis? What energy crisis? Didn’t President Bush say, “Do you realize we have 250 million years of coal?”

Rolling Stone and New York Times Magazine writer Goodell gently corrects the ever-misspoken politico: “He meant, of course, 250 years’ worth of coal.” Whereas gas and oil production seems to be peaking, America is in no danger of running out of high-quality coal anytime soon, though some of our now-abundant supplies in places like Wyoming and West Virginia will get a little harder to extract as seams nearer the surface are consumed. Around the earth there are, Goodell writes, an estimated 1 trillion tons of recoverable coal, which makes it a comparatively abundant fossil fuel, and, all things considered, an inexpensive one at that. And that spells trouble. America burns plenty of coal—half of the electrical power delivered to Los Angeles, for instance, comes from coal-burning plants elsewhere in the Southwest—though with enough environmental controls to make the process relatively clean, certainly as compared to China, whose cities are coated in sulfurous, foul-smelling, mercury-laden ash. Yet the U.S. burns three times the amount of coal that China does, and coal turns out to be a major cause of global warming. What Goodell calls Big Coal has any number of highly paid executives whose job it is to argue away such facts, while efforts to improve safety and ecological problems are dismissed as the mischief of “bureaucrats, regulators, union organizers, and environmentalists” bent on keeping honest Americans—and honest Chinese, for that matter—from earning a living. Big Coal, he adds, delivered West Virginia to George Bush, and it has been well repaid in relaxed restrictions, some of which have lead to the deaths of miners. Goodell is right to say that the coal economy is little documented and not well understood, but his book makes a welcome corrective.

Eye-opening and provocative.