Kentucky coal mining is important to the Commonwealth since it not only meets state and national energy needs, but also contributes substantially to local and state economies. Coal fuels 95% of all electric power generated in the state. The market value of Kentucky coal exceeds $3 billion annually and employs over 17,000 Kentuckians who earned over $750 million in wages. The forest industry in Kentucky is a $5.3 billion enterprise that specializes in a renewable resource, which is especially important for Kentucky's future, as coal supplies are non-renewable.
Hundred's of acres of high-value hardwood trees, on currently mined and reclaimed areas, are being established and monitored for survival and growth. Reclamation methods are being modified by changing current practices, which result in compaction and low tree survivability, to loose dumped spoil which produces a surface topography with three to five foot depressions. Additionally, ripping of previously reclaimed lands is enhancing tree growth potential.
Since 1980, an estimated 1.2 million acres were permitted for coal mining representing nearly 5% of the state's total land area. Nearly 98% of currently permitted mining is in Eastern Kentucky. The Appalachian area has been historically poor, and the successful establishment of high-value hardwood trees will provide a renewable and sustainable multi-use resource that will create economic opportunities while enhancing local and global environmental conditions. Scientific observations have indicated that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are steadily rising and contributing to global warming. Our research is exploring offsetting CO2 emissions through the establishment of forests that provide sequestration of carbon in terrestrial systems. Given that mined lands are essentially devoid of carbon, the establishment of forests is expected to dramatically reduce CO2 through carbon accumulation in created forest soils and biomass.