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From the Editor's Desk
Mining a Committee’s History

In their lead article on page 22 about the history of ASTM Committee D05’s service to the coal and coke industry, Lou Janke, Jim Luppens, and Ron Graham report on an “informal” survey that asked “What is the power behind the light switch?” Many respondents, when told the U.S. electric utility industry depends heavily on coal, responded, “We still burn coal in this country?”

I’m embarrassed to say, had the authors included me in their survey, I would have been one of those ignorant of the crucial role played today by coal in providing electricity to not only the United States, but many countries around the world. It may surprise you, as it did me, to learn that U.S. coal use actually went up in a recent 26-year span — 51 percent of U.S. electricity was generated by coal in 2002, compared to 46 percent in 1976.

Coal may be thought of as an obsolete or perhaps even depleted resource, sitting at the back of some people’s minds along with whale oil, but it is far from either of those. Remember the nine coal miners trapped, then heroically rescued, two years ago at Pennsylvania’s QueCreek coal mine? Make no mistake, people are still out there, day and night, mining much of our electricity for us. And right under our noses, in ASTM Committee D05 on Coal and Coke, hundreds of ASTM members have been working over the last century to standardize coal, and its residue coke, so that it can be most efficiently and cleanly used.

Another surprising fact in this month’s lead feature is that the United States is the “Saudi Arabia” of coal, with one quarter of the world’s accessible and minable coal reserves buried deep in its soil. Still, the work of Committee D05 is international in its scope. The committee first began working to promote free and open global coal trade in the 1950s, when it established a presence on International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee 27 on Solid Fuels. To this day, D05 itself enjoys the participation of task group and committee members from Australia, Canada, China, Germany, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

Even though the number of U.S. mines in operation has dropped dramatically in the last century, from over 11,000 in the 1920s to under 1,500 today, coal production has never been more efficient and more vital. It would not be a stretch to say that this increasing efficiency has been both a cause and effect of Committee D05’s own productivity in developing consensus standards for the industry. One of the main “powers behind the light switch” is not only coal itself, but the ASTM committee that standardizes it.

Maryann Gorman
Editor in Chief

Copyright 2004, ASTM International