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.