While I was writing about last night's West Virginia gubernatorial debate there was another debate going on between the Republican and Democratic vice presidential candidates. The statements of Mike Pence and Tim Kaine have been fact-checked here and here and apparently the "war on coal" did play a part in the debate. Here is the AP's fact-checker on the "war on coal":
PENCE: The economy has stagnated under President Barack Obama, with the Democrat waging a ‘‘war on coal.’’
THE FACTS: The coal industry is struggling, but the Indiana governor incorrectly blamed its woes solely on new federal regulations, omitting the effects of steep competition from cheap natural gas.
A string of major coal companies has filed for bankruptcy in recent years, including Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources and Peabody Energy. Layoffs and cutbacks have spread economic suffering through coal country in the Appalachians and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.
By contrast, these are boom times for natural gas extraction.
Still, the Obama administration has implemented rules that aren’t making the coal industry’s life any easier. Obama last year imposed a rule requiring coal-fired power plants to cut their carbon emissions as part of his effort to combat climate change. The rule has been suspended pending a legal challenge. Obama also has halted new coal leases on federal lands until it completes a comprehensive review.
Also this morning, the Washington Post's Stephen Stromberg had some additional analysis on some things that were implicit in Mike Pence's attacks on the Obama/Clinton war on coal:
But the most glaring example of damning subtext that will get the least attention was in Pence’s repeated attacks on Obama and Clinton for the “war on coal,” a term that the Indiana governor used conspicuously five times. What that term really implies is that the federal government should not fight climate change. Kicking coal is at the center of any good climate strategy, because there is no reasonable way to keep burning large amounts of the dirtiest fossil fuel and respond to scientists’ warnings that the world must dramatically cut carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon capture and other technologies that could make coal “clean” have proven themselves extremely expensive relative to other options. Coal country simply must transition.
The term also implies factual illiteracy — or disinterest in reality — on the part of those who use it. U.S. coal consumption has dropped not just because of the Obama administration’s climate agenda. Coal country was hit hard long before the president’s Clean Power Plan was finalized. The fracking boom produced a massive, steady supply of cheap natural gas, which has out-competed coal.
Despite their rhetoric, Trump and Pence could not rescue coal country from that economic reality without some sort of massive and counterproductive government intervention.
I doubt that the local "newspapers" will devote any coverage to fact-checking the vice presidential candidates nor will they present any reality-based analysis of reasons for the decline of the coal industry. (Why start now?) That's too bad because, as the West Virginia gubernatorial candidates clearly demonstrated last night, a majority of West Virginians apparently believe that we can easily return to West Virginia's golden age if only we elect the right politicians who can magically make the EPA go away. Part of this may be because we have been given no other possibilities to consider beyond this all-or-nothing perspective on coal. And here we are ill-served by our local media. Too much of our state is covered by Ogden newspapers whose mission is to promote/protect the coal companies and which do nothing to educate its readers about alternatives to a coal-dominated future. (In fairness to some of the state's other newspapers, we do have non-Ogden papers which both inform and educate their readers.) Additionally, local television provides little or no hope for education; the state's TV stations are located in small-sized population centers that lack the advertising base to do much beyond airing easy-to-do stories such as local fires, council meetings, local crime, and trials.
I semi-joked last night about the big deal that both candidates made out of increase broadband coverage in the state -- in fairness, maybe greater access to broadband will educate more West Virginians. We need something because until we become educated about this country's most-likely energy path, we'll continue to get West Virginia politicians who tell us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear.