Two weeks ago I wrote about a new book, journalist Richard Martin's Coal Wars. Late last week, two additional articles used Martin's book as a starting place for a discussion of the "war on coal."
Tim McDonnell of Grist looked at Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell's attempt to change the inevitable future in "Coal is dying all by itself ." (Note that McConnell has the same perception of reality and uses the same reasoning as our local "newspapers."):
His latest maneuver came last month when he called on state lawmakers to simply ignore the administration’s new rules, in order to resist Obama’s “attack on the middle class.”
His logic, apparently, is that if Kentucky can stave off Obama long enough, the coal industry still has a glorious future ahead. That logic is fundamentally flawed. While Obama’s tenure will probably speed up the country’s transition to cleaner energy, the scales had already tipped against coal long before he took office. Kentucky’s coal production peaked in 1990, and coal industry employment peaked all the way back in the 1920s. The scales won’t tip back after he leaves. The “war on coal” narrative isn’t simply misleading, it also distracts from the very real problem of how to prepare coal mining communities and energy consumers (i.e., everyone) for an approaching future in which coal is demoted to a bit role after a century at center stage.
Similar to this is a Friday article in Salon: "Rand Paul’s “big coal” lie: The real reason the industry is dying" by Lindsay Abrams. Abrams has another explanation for the recent local coal mining layoffs we read about in our local "newspapers:"
Hundreds of West Virginia coal workers lost their jobs Tuesday, and according to Murray Energy, the company that laid them off, they have “the ongoing destruction of the United States coal industry by President Barack Obama, and his supporters” to thank.
The layoffs — and the justification given for them — were conveniently timed to the legal battle beginning Thursday, in which Murray is one of the plaintiffs bringing suit against the Environmental Protection Agency for its proposed rule limiting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Regardless of what the actual reason for the layoffs might be, you can’t buy anti-regulatory propaganda like that.
Abrams notes the same causes of coal's decline that you will find discussed almost everywhere outside of coal country where the president and the EPA are your standard scapegoats: market forces (especially natural gas), increased use of technology, the "mining out" of the KY/WV coal fields and competition from western states. Abrams also references Martin on why McConnell is doing more harm than good:
“When people like Mitch McConnell stand up in the U.S. Senate and decry the Obama administration’s war on coal,” he said, “they’re not really helping their constituents. Every hour or dollar spent on fighting the war on coal is a resource that doesn’t go to really helping these people in places where the coal industry is not coming back.”
I've just ordered Martin's book. I'm sure I'll have more to say about it at a later date.