Coal is a concentrated form of prehistoric biomass in the form of plant life and is the most abundant fossil fuel produced in the United States. Over 90 percent of the coal consumed in the US is used to generate electricity. Coal power is also used as a basic industry source for making steel, cement and paper, and is used in numerous other industries as well. As the first concentrated energy source to be used by man, coal fueled the Industrial Revolution and lifted the burden of labor from the backs of men and animals. The Industrial Revolution was begun in England, the first nation to employ its coal resources to increase human productivity, in turn becoming the first economic and political superpower of the energy age.
For over a century, coal served as the chief transportation energy source and fed the world’s commerce with railroads and steamships. Its transformation from an abundant but useless rock into a valuable energy source created an explosion of intellectual creativity that changed the course of human events. Currently, coal is used to meet 16 percent of America’s total energy demand and generate over 30 percent of all its electricity.
American Coal. The United States has enough recoverable coal reserves to last over 300 years, with reserves that are one-and-one-half times greater than our nearest competitor, Russia, and over twice that of China.[i] America’s known reserves alone constitute 26 percent of the entire world’s coal supply. While known reserves are high, actual US coal resources are much higher. For example, Alaska’s vast coal resources barely figure into US coal reserve numbers.