The New York Times today has an editorial calling on President Obama to suspend mountaintop removal until the regulations are revised to end it.

It points out that the coal companies (and Senator Bobby Byrd) insist that “there is no other cost-effective way to dispose of the waste.”

That depends on your definition of “cost-effective.”  I am sure it would be more cost-effective for me to dump my garbage into my neighbor’s back yard rather than pay for trash collection.  My neighbor might not think so.

Only about a third of the value of coal produced in West Virginia is from surface mines, including mountaintop removal mines.  Stopping mountaintop removal is a good first step, but there are many other environmental costs being paid by the rest of us, to the profit of the coal and power companies.

Underground mines produce toxic waste; all mines produce toxic waste-water from washing the coal; and the solid waste from burning coal for electricity is the second-largest waste stream in the country, after municipal garbage.  And then there is the CO2, which is the focus of “clean coal” initiatives.

Coal produces half of the country’s electricity, but other alternatives would be more “cost-effective” if the true costs were all included in the cost of coal and electricity.  Increasing efficiency could cut our electricity use by more than a quarter. A study by the Rocky Mountain Institute showed that there is a huge gap between the most and least efficient states in their use of electricity.  If all states were as efficient as the top states, we would save 30% of all electricity (which would be equivalent to 62% of coal-fired electricity).  Natural gas produces half the CO2 per BTU, little toxic waste, far less destruction of the surface, is already in use for electricity generation, and could bridge the gap until we can bring more renewable energy on-line.  In both cases, the ability is there and being done in some places.  We are not already doing this because coal is cheaper, mainly because the coal industry is not paying its garbage bill.