Scientists tell us that burning coal puts some really nasty emissions into the atmosphere. Consequently, the burning of coal as an energy source in the U.S. is about as popular as a you-know-what in a punch bowl. Let’s face it. Coal has a bad reputation; and the dirtier the coal, the nastier the reputation.

In WorkBoat’s upcoming July issue, columnist Kevin Horn discusses the value of the dirtiest — highest in sulfur and ash content — coal in the U.S.

It turns out that there is a market for this “dirty coal” in Europe. “…this dirty coal is reportedly being delivered to utility plants in Europe for about $65 a ton — much cheaper than the delivered price of European coal and cheaper than higher quality Appalachian coal,” Horn writes.

Horn says this low-grade coal is plentiful in states like Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana, and “readily accessible to barge.”

So let’s review: We don’t want to burn the stuff here because of what it puts into the atmosphere. But we’ll sell it to customers overseas. When they burn it, does it go into a different atmosphere?

On the other hand, if you’re a barge company are you going to turn down business — the transportation of dirty coal for export out of New Orleans — to help save the environment? That’s the dilemma, isn’t it?

If somebody else wants to pollute the atmosphere, there’s little we can do about it. Our hands are clean and our bank accounts healthier. What’s wrong with that?

Well, it doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t make sense. If it’s bad stuff, it’s bad stuff. Of course, it’s easy for me as a reporter/blogger to stand on principle when I have nothing tangible at stake. But what if I owned a barge company, would I turn down business — lots of money — to stand on this principle?

I’d like to say yes, but the answer is probably no. After all, if I don’t do it, someone else will. The stuff gets there anyway. But what that says about me as a person makes me feel like a lump of coal. I told you this is a dirty business.

You can read Kevin Horn’s column in its entirety on page 14 of the upcoming July issue of WorkBoat.


Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.