A couple of times a week I check a Google search page for "coal" that sometimes leads to items for "coal news" on this blog. The search is wide and sometimes gets false hits (coal in Christmas stockings) but I've found that its often a good barometer of what is being said about coal on the Web. While the new Trump Administration and a rise in coal prices have created some optimistic coverage from some coal country and conservative sources, I've noticed that the tone and subject matter of the vast majority of articles has become much bleaker in the past couple of months.
Here, for instance, are three sources from earlier today:
Coal Just Can't Compete, Despite Trump's Promises
Though energy experts have been predicting the death of the U.S. coal industry for years, West Virginia shows no signs of giving up.
The article notes that a rise in natural gas prices has boosted coal production but its prognosis beyond the short term is not good even with the president's recent executive actions favoring coal:
While President Trump has promised the triumphant return of the coal industry and has already made efforts to scale back environmental regulations that limit the coal companies’ methods of extraction and processing, this in no way guarantees a steady future for West Virginia or other coal-dependent Appalachian states.
Repealing industry regulations or offering tax benefits to big coal will not bring back the jobs that West Virginia so sorely needs (as of December 2016 the state’s unemployment rate was 1.2 percent higher than the national average). While these steps may bolster production, however, they hold no promise of jobs.
And here is an AP fact check article whose headline reads:
No, manufacturing and coal are not rebounding
President Donald Trump wants to show that his economic vision of America — making products again, raising great buildings and mining coal — is already coming true, despite the lack of legislation powering that dream. So when the latest jobs report came out, the White House eagerly trumpeted the robust results. But it was out of tune.
Manufacturing, coal mining and construction were little more than bit players in last month’s employment growth, contrary to White House claims that those sectors led the surge.
Balance that with coal's most optimistic article on today's list. Glenn Beck's The Blaze tells us that the number of coal jobs in southern West Virginia has been rising and concludes that things are "incredible." (But even that article admits that Kentucky has lost 3.3% of its coal jobs so far this year.)
When I first started this blog over three years ago I was hopeful that West Virginia might begin to see what I thought was clearly evident -- the future of coal (for various reasons) was not promising and more importantly, the state needed to begin to look at an alternative future. A couple of days ago while looking at my old blog for something that I wrote in 2014, I was struck by the amount of coverage that I gave to the Natalie Tennant/Shelley Moore Capito senate battle that year and, in particular, how many times I wrote that the candidates sounded identical on almost every issues. Foremost was coal where both candidates tried to outdo each other in their unrequited love for the fossil fuel. I also noted on a couple of occasions that the Mountain Party did provide an alternative view but the state's media (obviously including Ogden papers) ignored the party.
The decline in the coal industry has accelerated and yet nothing has changed. We still have politicians promising to make coal great again and we still have voters who elect them despite what has become apparent to most Americans -- coal is no longer king and it never will be again.
One of the West Virginia voices that has been trying to call attention to this has been Charleston attorney Jim Lees. I was first introduced to Lees back in 2004 when he was one of a number of Democratic candidates for governor. He impressed me then and I've since read a number of his op-ed pieces in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He had another piece published this morning:
Is there a party that will say WV is more than coal?
Lees discusses some of the reasons why the Democratic Party has become the minority party in elections and then makes a suggestion:
The West Virginia Democratic Party is in desperate need of a defining issue to separate it from the Republican Party, an issue or position that makes people stop and think and actually discuss candidates in terms of their support or non-support for the major policy position of their respective Party. And after giving this matter much thought I would like to suggest that we, the Democratic Party of West Virginia, once and for all time stop following the tired dogma of “West Virginia is coal, and coal is West Virginia” and stand up for a new West Virginia that bets its future on something other than coal.
As for the Republicans:
I welcome the Republican Party’s vision of treading water with no plan for internal economic growth and a fantasy belief that somehow staying the course and cutting needed services will spur economic growth. It will not, and do we really need to wait yet another 20 years in order to look back and see the fallacy of this Republican worship of coal coupled with a lack of any plan for growth except wishing and hoping?
And his conclusion:
Now is the time for the leadership of the Democratic Party to be bold, not fossilized. For goodness sakes, break with the past, take the next logical step, and declare that the Democratic Party of West Virginia stands at last for severing the umbilical cord between West Virginia and the coal industry.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are not coal. We are so much more than that, if only one political party will finally find the courage to stand up and lead this State into a better and brighter future.