WAR ON COAL?—MORE LIKE A FRIENDLY SLAP TO THE CHEEK

Among the absurdities of both this campaign season and the relentless attacks on President Obama for not breathing through both nostrils when his sinuses bother him, is the claim that somehow our Prez and his minions at the EPA are conducting a war against coal, forcing the closure of mines and coal-fired power stations, and putting miners out of work.

Here in West Virginia where coal is still king despite the whole get rid of the monarchy trauma this nation went through two-hundred thirty or so years ago, such rhetoric has reached such ridiculous heights that Senator Joe Manchin and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, both Democrats running for re-election, have joined the Greek chorus chanting this canard.

Then one can throw in Patrick Morrisey, the Republican candidate for state Attorney General, who is campaigning against Obama on issues that are unlikely to reach the inbox on his desk should he be elected.

All this in a bizarre quest to save a coal industry that, while providing jobs through the years, also has seen far too many of the holders of those jobs die; has produced corruption in the governor’s office; and has witnessed the extraction of coal from the ground while simultaneously the owners of that coal extracted their profits from the state and left the economic cupboard bare.

The state’s failure to generate economic strengths, especially in the Southern coalfields, aside from coal is one of the factors placing the Mountain State in the bottom half of many indicia of well-being and attractiveness for new business and residents.

We do have spectacular scenery and a thriving if not still nascent tourist trade, but the growth of mountaintop removal methods for coal mining could force the state’s nickname to change…a la Prince…to the State Formerly Known As The Mountain State.

I’ve traveled this road previously from different perspectives.  http://umoc193.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/loves-labors-lost/

My email inbox Sunday contained an article in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on this very topic that was forwarded by a friend. http://wvgazette.com/News/201210130087

There are some very pertinent points raised therein.

This graph shows how production in the Central Appalachian coalfields is expected to drop. The Southern W.Va. fields are among those affected. But the lowered production is due not to over zealous EPA enforcement but is a product of quite a number of factors which coal industry people themselves recognize.

Analysts agree that much of the best coal in Southern West Virginia has already been mined. Thinner and lower quality seams are left, meaning production and productivity are dropping. Tough competition from inexpensive natural gas and other coal basins makes matters worse. New environmental restrictions only add to coal’s problems, and production is headed down regardless of air or water pollution restrictions.

Okay, now, I will not deny that EPA regulations and other efforts to reduce carbon emissions have not played a part in less use of coal to fuel power plants. But if anything the availability of more plentiful, much cheaper natural gas has hastened that process much more than anything the nasty, mean-spirited federal government has done.

This article from Forbes is illustrative. http://www.forbes.com/sites/energysource/2012/05/30/shale-gas-takes-on-coal-to-power-americas-electrical-plants/

The article mainly examines coal vs gas in terms of economics rather than clean air regulations and maintains that gas has become so abundant that its price has become depressed. At the same time coal prices have plummeted to return that fuel’s competitiveness. It further speculates that the margin favoring gas will remain narrow thus providing impetus for the continued use of both.

What is important to remember about coal as represented by the chart above is that the production drop portrayed applies to one geographical region. Indeed the Gazette-Mail article notes that coal production elsewhere is predicted to increase since there are relatively untouched, thicker seams of coal to be mined that present easier access and lower costs of extraction.

Digesting this information leads to a reasonable conclusion that, while concern for EPA and other government effects is not quite an afterthought for the coal industry, the emphasis on this concern is far out of proportion to the whys and wherefores of the health of the coal industry.

Thus, political expediency and manipulation rather than the reality of the market is the true basis of these unfounded charges that Obama is waging a War on Coal.

The ultimate irony is that these charges emanate from segments of the political world who usually are eager to conduct wars. Perhaps this “war” fantasy arises from their paraphrase of Kilgore’s declaration in Apocalypse Now

You smell that? Do you smell that? High sulfur coal, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of high sulfur coal in the morning.

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Comments

  • Charles Marshall  On October 17, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    This is an excellent post Dave. It is a shame that you probably can’t get it published in the DP. I will send it to the DP and Mountain Statesman if you give permission. I don’t know if the Statesman would publish it from and out of towner.   cjm

    ________________________________

    • umoc193  On October 17, 2012 at 11:13 PM

      Thanks for the good review.

      I know it’s too long for the letters section of the DP and I’m not certain how it would be used otherwise. But I’ll give you permission to submit it if you like.

      • Steve  On October 23, 2012 at 3:35 PM

        Hi Umoc,

        I used to post on reg on wry under brooklineusa, I found your blog and it is very entertaining. Whenever I try to post a comment it won’t let me. I found a way to post by replying to a comment. Anyway, I read your two posts on depression, and they were very poignant. I have been in denial for for a while, but I guess I suffer from depression also, to the point of.. Now I know I am not alone. When I go for my yearly check-up, I don’t have the balls to tell my doctor I could use some help. I guess I need to. Your column about internet dating was a hoot. Thanks for that

        • umoc193  On October 23, 2012 at 7:54 PM

          When I was first offically diagnosed back in 1984 it was not long until, when I would confide my ailment, I discovered that there was a lot of depression out there. Today one of my dearest fraternity brothers and I (he in Florida) talk on the phone almost every week. Sometimes one or both of us are going through low moods but when we start to swap stories or remember our frat days in the sixties we start laughing which is always the best therapy, even if for a time.

          Eight years ago when I couldn’t afford treatment on my own and I didn’t have insurance, I qualified for temporary assistance with a local health clinic. I got on medication and had almost weekly counselling sessions until my Medicare came through and I transferred to a full medical practice which includes both psychiatrists and psychologists.

          Now I’m on a pretty steady ride, with some lows as I noted, but bothing like my worst days and nights. Please share with your doctor. He/she should be able to give some immediate help and refer you to someone for a full evaluation. I won’t pretend to know what treatment(s) will work for you, since that is such an individual matter. However, your family doctor should also explore physical reasons for, if not the cause of your depression, then at least for aggravating factors.

          Don’t discount the positives of exercise either. I’m very remiss in this respect right now but I’m trying to work my way through it and get back to the gym. I do have bad knees and am overweight which are mitigations right now (read: sorry ass excuses).

          Good luck and keep reading and commenting. Once I post this you should be able to comment freely, but admittedly I don’t know how things look from the reader’s end.

      • little_minx  On October 23, 2012 at 11:11 PM

        Waving “hello” to Brookline!

  • little_minx  On October 18, 2012 at 12:37 PM

    UMOC, here’s an even greater absurdity re the energy self-sufficiency meme that you may wish to treat in a follow-up post.

    “Insight: U.S. taxpayers poised to subsidize Asian coal demand”:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/18/us-coal-exports-idUSBRE89H0CI20121018

    See in particular this graph charting amounts of US coal shipped to China, Japan, South Korea and India in 2006-11:

    • umoc193  On October 18, 2012 at 6:27 PM

      Sounds like some good followup.

      Today on my Facebook group page for my home town, which is supposed to be apolitical, a member posted a video from the Ohio coal miners who were supposedly forced to attend a Romney rally without pay. It was too long for me to do more than glance at then and I almost posted this blog entry there (I refrain from doing so on that page for all but a few posts. It is more for nostalgia than opinion).

      I did ask the poster to take it down for the reason that it invites comment that can descend into chaos. Do far it is still there, but my comment has received several “likes” indicating agreement.

      But I’ve been finding some disturbing news on the Ryan soup kitchen fiasco http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/18/soup-kitchen-paul-ryan-photo-donor_n_1980541.html (whose head I spoke to on the phone this afternoon) and the Shane Bauer situation (hiker imprisoned in Iran) who describes conditions in American prisons much worse than he experienced. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/10/solitary-confinement-shane-bauer

      Somehow these stories combined to remind me of the old RFK quote “I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?’ and it has inspired a new entry which I was ready to begin before I noticed your comment. Look for it tomorrow.

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