Coal: The View from 2,000 Feet

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James Fallows flies his plane over the mines of West Virginia and discusses the future of energy.

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Dirty Coal, Clean Future by James Fallows

The Atlantic, December 2010

When I have traveled at low altitude in small airplanes above America's active coal-mining regions--West Virginia and Kentucky in the East, Wyoming and its neighbors in the Great Basin region of the West--I've seen the huge scars left by "mountain-top removal" and open-pit mining for coal, which are usually invisible from the road and harder to identify from six miles up in an airliner. Compared with most other fossil-fuel sources of energy, coal is inherently worse from a carbon-footprint perspective, since its hydrogen atoms come bound with more carbon atoms, meaning that coal starts with a higher carbon-to-hydrogen ratio than oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons.

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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

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