“War on Coal”

GOP and Coal Launch War on America

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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First published at The Daily Impact  May 16, 2015

 

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To celebrate their coming to power in the United States Senate, Republicans this week launched their answer to the imaginary “War on Coal” by declaring war on clean air, and thus on all of us. Newly elected West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito introduced a bill that would make it impossible for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions from coal-burning power plants. Climate-change-denier-in-chief James Inhofe, celebrated for bringing a snowball onto the floor of the Senate in February to prove that global warming is a hoax, cheered Capito on from his throne at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The bill would not only eviscerate the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which has not yet been put into effect, but it would forbid rewriting it. Senator Capito said she was pushing the bill not to pay back the coal companies for hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions, and not to make American cities look more like Beijing, but to “protect families and businesses.” She proposes to do that by making sure that said families and businesses are subjected to ever more air pollution and climate change, forever and ever, amen.

In addition, the newly elected Republican Congressman from West Virginia’s Second District, Alex Mooney, has introduced legislation to roll back the EPA’s  half-hearted efforts to rein in mountaintop mining.

In the Republican faith, the federal government’s efforts to restrain the choking black smoke gushing from coal-burning power plants, and the trashing of Appalachia’s mountains to get at the coal that is left there, are destroying the industry. Those who regularly visit the real world know it is not this delusional “war on coal” that has brought the industry to its knees, it is the competing natural gas industry, which is providing power plants with a cheaper, cleaner alternative. It’s something we used to refer to, in the old days, as “free enterprise.” When you add to those unfavorable free-market conditions a heavy dose of incompetence and criminality, you get a coal industry in ruins — screaming that it’s Obama’s fault, and ordering their wholly owned politicians to do something.

A perfect example of reality emerged this week when Patriot Coal declared bankruptcy 18 months after emerging from bankruptcy. According to an industry analyst, the reasons for its demise were “a union strike, infrastructure failures, fatal accidents and persistently weak coal markets.” Environmental regulations, aka the War on Coal? Not mentioned.

About those weak markets: the coal industry world wide expanded its capacity feverishly when prices were high a few years ago. They glutted the market, drove down prices, and bankrupted themselves (that’s why Patriot went into bankruptcy the first time). Then the natural gas industry discovered fracking and did the same thing — glutting the market, driving prices down, and simultaneously shooting itself in the foot and cutting the throat of the coal industry. Natural gas prices got so low that every power company that could do so, converted its generators to gas, and coal’s share of that market drops from half to 39%. Did Obama do that? No, he did not.

Never mind the facts, the Republican faith is firm: if we just pollute the air and trash the mountains, everything will be all right. Thank goodness there’s a Democratic Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, to bring a little common  sense into the discussion. Wait, what? He’s a co-sponsor of Capito’s War on America bill?

Better stock up on face masks.

 

 

 


Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

Old King Coal Stricken; Prognosis Grave

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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A coal train once supplied the city of Holland, Michigan with fuel for its electric generating plant. They converted the plant to natural gas. Their costs are down, their emissions are down, and coal is down for the count. (Photo by wsilver/Flickr)

A coal train once supplied the city of Holland, Michigan with fuel for its electric generating plant. They converted the plant to natural gas. Their costs are down, their emissions are down, and coal is down for the count. (Photo by wsilver/Flickr)

First published at The Daily Impact  March 27, 2015

After bestriding the mountains of Appalachia, among many other places, like the proverbial Colossus for a century and more, the U.S. coal industry has been taken to hospice, a pathetic wasted shadow of its former self, its physical condition terminal, its thought processes derailed by dementia. It’s not a pretty sight (except perhaps to the survivors of the ruin, destruction and death it has brought to thousands upon thousands of helpless people) and there are those who say its fate foreshadows that of the oil fracking  industry, which is now in the ICU, and the legacy oil bidness, which has started to have dizzy spells and occasional sudden hemorrhaging.

A report out this week from the think tank Carbon Tracker, titled “The U.S. Coal Crash,” itemizes the problems listed on the patient’s chart:

  • 26 coal companies bankrupt in the last three years;
  • Peabody Energy Corp., the world’s largest private coal company, has lost 80% of its share value, and that is representative of the industry as a whole (or as a hole);
  • 264 mines were closed in just two years — 2011-2013.
  • The last best hope for coal, China, which burns more than the rest of the world combined, has rendered much of its territory including its capital virtually uninhabitable because of the resulting air pollution, and is cutting back. A little. Down 3% last year.

Oh, and the dementia part? Peabody Energy issued a “forecast” this year “foreseeing” increased coal demand of 10-30 million tons, and global demand increasing by 500 million tons. Not only that, but the industry professes to believe in “clean” coal, and that its woes are caused entirely by President Obama’s “war on coal.” It’s sad, really, next we’ll find them wandering in the WalMart parking lot, unable to remember where they put their car.

What the industry calls the “war on coal” — the U.S. government’s limp-wristed efforts to reduce air pollution before it a) boils the planet and b) makes all the monuments in Washington invisible, like the skyline of Beijing — is not the primary cause of the industry’s demise. That mortal wound was delivered by the natural gas frackers, who in 2008 began to flood the market with cheap, fracked gas and inspired every electric generating plant that could do it to convert to burning gas instead of coal.

There went coal’s last reliable market, and that is why the doctors expect to see a flat line on the monitor any day now. Incidentally, the gas frackers did so well at driving down the price of their product that many of them went under, too, and the rest are hanging on with teeth and fingernails. You can’t get poetic justice to rhyme any better than that.

You’ve heard of those people who get diagnosed as terminal, check into hospice, and five years later get kicked out because they refuse to die? Coal will probably be like that for the remainder of the Industrial Age. It will remain the cheapest option for some, and cheap trumps everything else in our values-deprived world. Same with oil. It will endure long past its prime, in palliative care.

Yes, the mighty are falling, and it’s hard not to gloat, until we remember their ultimate justification: they were only giving us what we wanted.

 


 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

War Criminal Charged in War on Coal

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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A battlefield in the real War on Coal (the 1968 Farmington Mine disaster in West Virginia). The aggressor is not who you think it is, nor are the victims.

A battlefield in the real War on Coal (the 1968 Farmington Mine disaster in West Virginia). The aggressor is not who you think it is, nor are the victims.

First published at The Daily Impact  November 17, 2014

A long, long list of lies have been perpetrated by industrialists to confuse ordinary people about how, and by whom, the world is being destroyed. Proceedings in a Federal courthouse in West Virginia are about to bring some clarity to the issue. The quality of the lies has been uniformly low — none of them stands up to a moment’s rational examination. Their success rate, on the other hand, has been high; a dismaying proportion of Americans believes that the people who are exploiting them the most are their best friends, and the people who are trying to save them are their enemies. There is no worse example than the bogus “War on Coal,” imagineered by coal-mine operators as a unifying theory of everything bad that happens: Obama did it, as part of his “War on Coal.”

As propaganda, the War on Coal was a brilliant stroke. How else could an industry whose air pollution is destabilizing the entire planet, whose operations are obliterating mountain ranges, poisoning groundwater, and routinely killing and sickening its employees, instantly make itself seem a blameless victim of outside aggression? Its audacity was exceeded only by the gullibility of a grateful nation, which never paused to remark on the oddity of Coal declaring a war on itself, on behalf of an enemy that did not seem to be aware of it.

The only aggression committed against Big Coal recently was the assault of Fracking Gas, which glutted the market with cheap fuel for power generators, causing them to abandon coal like it was a poor relative. Compared to that, the effect of some new pollution regulations on aging (40+ years old) power plants — regulations that have not even been drafted yet, let alone put into effect — are hardly a cause of war, as the industry claims.

If by War on Coal they mean an effort to restrict its pollution, and if they really want that effort completely abandoned, then they should be clear that the result will be that we all live in the conditions now prevalent in Beijing, where on a clear day you can’t see for nothing. People recently returned from visits there report it takes six weeks to stop coughing.

The War that is under way here is not on coal, but on coal miners, their families and neighbors. It is not being prosecuted by the government, or by Obama, but by the coal industry itself. This war is not a metaphor. It has real casualties, such as the 29 miners killed in action in the Big Branch Mine in 2010, dead because their bosses would rather wring the last dollar out of a mine than see to the welfare and safety of their employees. Incidence of Black Lung Disease — an entirely preventable, deadly side effect of breathing coal dust — has increased tenfold in ten years. Would you believe 75,000 fatalities since 1968? Now, that’s a war; fewer people were killed in Vietnam. It is said that victims of mine disasters get headlines, victims of Black Lung just get headstones.

Through all of this misery and death, Big Coal has skated, not only escaping justice but deflecting onto others the revulsion it so richly deserves. But now comes the one part of the American Federal Government that appears to be still in working order, still adhering to the lofty and admirable goals of an earlier time: the United States Department of Justice.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted the fattest cat of the Big Coal fat cats — Don Blankenship — of enough war crimes to send him away for 30 years if he is convicted. No, they didn’t call them war crimes — he is charged with conspiracy to deliberately violate mine safety regulations, obstruction of government inspectors and investigators, all in connection with the 2010 Big Branch Mine explosion.

In a country where the Supreme Court pats industrialists on the head and tells them they have every right to corrupt the political process with their money; where federal and state regulators pat them on the head and tell them to go right ahead and pollute, and maim, and kill, and we’ll look the other way; where politicians fall over themselves in slavish adulation of the “job creators,” and promise never to tax them or regulate them in any way; it is refreshing indeed to learn that federal prosecutors still have the will and the means to hand the Don Blankenships of this world a summons to a higher accounting.

They are the War Criminals, and we badly need to see them standing in the dock of justice.

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

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