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The Coal Industry Is Dying, And It Isn’t Coming Back

Canada announced yesterday that it would begin to phase out the use of coal for electricity generation by 2030 even as the incoming Administration here in the United States apparently intends to elevate its use:

TORONTO — Canada announced Monday it plans phase out the use of coal-fired electricity by 2030.

The move is in stark contrast to President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to revive the American coal industry.

Environment Minister Kathleen McKenna said the goal is to make sure 90 percent of Canada’s electricity comes from sustainable sources by that time — up from 80 percent today.

The announcement is one of a series of measures Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is rolling out as part of a broader climate change plan. Trudeau also has plans to implement a carbon tax.

Trump, in contrast, has also said he would “cancel” the Paris Agreement.

Trudeau told President Barack Obama this past weekend he would miss working with him because he shared so many values.

France, Britain, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark have all announced accelerated coal phase outs, McKenna said.

“Taking traditional coal power out of our energy mix and replacing it with cleaner technologies will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve the health of Canadians, and benefit generations for years to come,” McKenna said.

In contrast to the Canadian move on coal, we have Donald Trump, who during the campaign not only attacked Hillary Clinton for talking about the seemingly inevitable day when the coal industry would be effectively dead, but also promised to increase the use of coal and bring coal-related jobs back to places such as Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. It’s no coincidence that two of these three states are solidly Republican and that Republicans tend to dominate in those parts of Pennsylvania where coal is still a major industry, of course, but Trump’s position also mirrors the general Republican position on fossil fuels and climate change that seemingly denies reality. In this reality, the fact that coal is the dirtiest and least efficient way to generate electricity isn’t really relevant because climate change, which has been largely verified by the relevant data even if there is disagreement about whether and how to reverse it, simply doesn’t exist or isn’t a problem. With a mentality like this, it’s easy for them to pander to a special interest group like coal workers and the coal industry without any real concern for the consequences of their action, and to make promises that, in the end, cannot really be met.

This is because, contrary to the claims of Trump and other Republicans, the coal industry isn’t dying because of government regulation, it’s dying because of the free market that they claim to want to protect:

Many in Appalachia and other coal-mining regions believe that President Obama’s supposed war on coal caused a steep decline in the industry’s fortunes. But coal’s struggles to compete are caused by cheap natural gas, cheap renewables, air-quality regulations that got their start in the George W. Bush administration and weaker-than-expected demand for coal in Asia.

Nationwide, coal employment peaked in the 1920s. The more recent decline in Appalachian coal employment started in the 1980s during the administration of Ronald Reagan because of the role that automation and mechanization played in replacing miners with machines, especially in mountaintop removal mining. Job losses in Appalachia were compounded by deregulation of the railroads. Freight prices for trains dropped as a result, which meant that Western coal — which is much cleaner and cheaper than Eastern coal — could be sold to markets far away, cutting into the market share of Appalachian mines. These market forces recently drove six publicly traded coal producers into bankruptcy in the span of a year.

Mr. Trump cannot reverse these trends.

For Mr. Trump to improve coal’s fate would require enormous market intervention like direct mandates to consume coal or significant tax breaks to coal’s benefit. These are the exact types of interventions that conflict with decades of Republican orthodoxy supporting competitive markets. Another approach, which appears to be gaining popularity, is to open up more federal lands and waters to oil, gas and coal production.

Doing so would only exacerbate coal’s challenges, as it would add to the oversupply of energy, lowering the price of coal, which makes it even harder for coal companies to stay profitable. Those same policy actions would also lead to more gas production, depressing natural gas prices further, which would outcompete coal. Instead of being a virtuous cycle for coal, it looks more like a death spiral. And this is all without environmental regulations related to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which aren’t even scheduled to kick in for several years.

(…)

Even if the president-elect tried to make these moves, surprising opponents might step in his way. Natural gas companies are the primary beneficiaries of, and now defenders of, clean air and low carbon regulations. They include Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, which operates in a lot of countries that care about reducing carbon emissions. The company issued a public statement in support of the Paris climate agreement on Nov. 4, the day it took effect. Shutting down coal in favor of natural gas, which is cleaner and emits much less carbon, is a big business opportunity for companies like Exxon Mobil.

In the battle between coal companies and major oil and gas producers, I expect the latter will be victorious.

What’s ironic about all of this is that what we’re likely to see playing out is a clash between two industries that are both favored by the right.  On the one hand, there’s coal, which has largely been championed by Republicans like Trump for the political advantage of gaining support in states where the industry is still hanging on in states like West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. In order to do so, they have been making promises such as those Trump did during the course of the campaign, most of which it will be impossible to deliver on. On the other hand, there is a natural gas and fracking end of the energy sector, which has boomed in recent years thanks both to historically low oil prices and favorable treatment in states controlled by Republicans. As the article notes above, natural gas in particular is in nearly all ways a superior form of energy to coal. It is cleaner, easier and far less dangerous to extract, and far more abundant than coal. The more the advantages of these forms of energy compared to coal become apparent, the closer we are coming to the day when the idea of phasing out coal will not only be feasible, it will be unremarkable. As noted above, even cheaper energy prices would not help the coal industry since it would only add to the competitive advantages of natural gas. Additionally, the expansion of the renewables side of the energy sector is likely to continue under a Trump Administration given the fact that it has become so widespread that even Republicans in Congress are finding it hard to oppose the concept of additional investment in solar and wind power, at least to the extent of tax breaks and other methods of indirect subsidy to industry. The combined impact of these two forces will only make the end of coal more likely even if it is still many years away.

Given all of this, the fact that politicians such as Trump and other Republicans are continuing to tell voters in coal country that their jobs can be saved or even increased is the worst form of pandering. They are making promises that, unless they are completely ignorant when it comes to economic reality and the basics of energy policy, cannot be kept Indeed, any measure they take to try to “save” the coal industry will end up contributing to its slow death because it will help keep energy prices low, which in the end helps coal alternatives such as natural gas far more than it does coal itself. Meanwhile, people who still work in the industry and fall for these lies end up being deceived yet again by being told what they want to hear rather than the truth. The truth is that the days of coal being a reliable, high-paying industry are gone, and they aren’t coming back. This may be a hard truth, especially for the people of Appalachia where coal is basically the only industry at this point, but it strikes me that telling them the truth would be far better than selling them a lie only to find them in a far worse position than they are today when the end finally comes.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    One of the dirty secrets in the environmental movement right now is that a lot of the funding for the anti-fracking organizations are coming from the coal industry and middle-eastern governments, both of whom are really more concerned about market competition than protecting the environment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  2. EddieInCA says:

    Coal is coming back.

    President Elect Trump said so.

    All those bankrupt mining companies will be healthy again soon. All those jobs will create thriving opportunities for growth and success in West Virginia and Kentucky.

    Because….. TRUMP!

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  3. Pch101 says:

    It’s nice to see that the Republican party works so hard to offer platforms that are firmly based upon “facts” that aren’t true.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  4. One of the dirty secrets in the environmental movement right now is that a lot of the funding for the anti-fracking organizations are coming from the coal industry and middle-eastern governments,

    This has also been noted on the right, which as I said has a seemingly contradictory position of favoring both clean technologies like natural gas and fracking and coal, which is the dirtiest source of energy currently in widespread use in the industrialized world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  5. C. Clavin says:

    the fact that politicians such as Trump and other Republicans are continuing to tell voters in coal country that their jobs can be saved or even increased is the worst form of pandering. They are making promises that, unless they are completely ignorant when it comes to economic reality and the basics of energy policy, cannot be kept

    I don’t gamble much…but that’s about the safest bet I’ve ever heard of.
    Trump is among the most ignorant people I have ever heard speak, and that includes Mike Pence.
    His lack of knowledge and understanding of issues and policy, not to mention general decorum, is amazing when you take into consideration his station in life.
    I guess that comes from being born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and rounding third base.
    I think, too, that to be a racist at the level he is racist requires a high level of ignorance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    I’d also note that coal is less of an issue in Pennsylvania, owing to the presence of the Marcellus Formation meaning that the decline of the coal industry has been matched by the rise of the natural gas industry. It’s probably more of an issue in places like Kentucky where the coal industry is going away with nothing to replace it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. Davebo says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    While I’m not sure I buy that but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Canada’s plan is ambitious not so much in it’s elimination of coal fired plants as it’s plan for 90% renewables. This especially because of it’s natural gas reserves.

    Coal as a fuel for making electricity is idiotic and has been since the Henry Hub price stabilized at well below $5 per million BTU.

    We’d be fools to build more coal fired plants, and yet that’s what is being tried. Guess we are fools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. KM says:

    This may be a hard truth, especially for the people of Appalachia where coal is basically the only industry at this point, but it strikes me that telling them the truth would be far better than selling them a lie only to find them in a far worse position than they are today when the end finally comes.

    They don’t want the truth, Doug. We got Trump because he lied to them and they desperately swallowed it. We’ll all pay a heavy price for this with no guarantee they won’t buy the same BS peddled in the next cycle.

    It’s going to take cutting off the aid and letting the towns die a natural, free-market directed death for it to sink in. It’s freaking over and has been over for nearly half a century in some places. It sounds terrible… hell, it *IS* a terrible and heartless thing. Still, the country needs to take a good hard look at itself and ask if we should be at the mercy of the gullibility of people seeking miracle cures. Should the middle class be forced to bear the burden of propping up one-horse towns with no future? The West is littered with ghost towns that couldn’t survive the lean times; those people moved on because the government back then wasn’t feeding tens of millions of dollars into a lost cause for their votes. Rebuilding existing infrastructure for some of these places alone is cost-prohibitive, let alone updating to the point of attracting new businesses and residents.

    I don’t want my hometown to die. It’s a sh^thole, but it’s my sh^thole, you know? I understand though that it’s only a matter of time and my grandkids will most likely never see it. Elementary and high school shuttered years ago, the church my family was baptized, married, and buried in for nearly a century gone last year. It hurts but its not the end of the world. Life moves on. Small-town America needs to move with it and not hold us all in thrall to a dead dream.

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  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @KM:

    It’s going to take cutting off the aid and letting the towns die a natural, free-market directed death for it to sink in. It’s freaking over and has been over for nearly half a century in some places. It sounds terrible… hell, it *IS* a terrible and heartless thing. Still, the country needs to take a good hard look at itself and ask if we should be at the mercy of the gullibility of people seeking miracle cures. Should the middle class be forced to bear the burden of propping up one-horse towns with no future?

    It’s funny how often liberals suddenly start sounding like Rush Limbaugh ranting about imagined welfare queens the minute rural poverty comes up.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 19

  10. grumpy realist says:

    Slightly OT but remember what I was saying about learning Chinese?

    Goodbye Pax Americana, Hello Pax Sinica. By the time Trump and his entourage realize how much they’ve lost in Asia, China will be well ahead in the race. We had a golden opportunity and are pissing it away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  11. KM says:

    @Stormy Dragon :

    imagined welfare queens

    And how quickly other liberals jump to the conservative canard that elites don’t care about the rural poor.

    I’m not going to cite the stats on red states taking more money or that rural white America takes the most social benefits but simply ask…. what’s your plan, then? How do you save a dying town of less then 100 people and a 20% employment rate? Short of increasing the programs to help them, how in the hell do you expect to attract business to such a place? What exactly is your idea to make a tiny cluster of trailer homes (and no, not a stereotype but freaking fact of life in some places) into a thriving community again?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 0

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @Stormy Dragon: So what would you recommend? That we prop up a dying industry and put up with the acid rain and increased mercury in the air (which causes neural damages humans, particularly in fetii) simply so a certain chunk of Appalachia can continue to mine “the way Grampa did!”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  13. Stormy Dragon says:

    @KM:

    It’s not really a doing or not doing something issue, more noting the differing level of sympathy expressed discussing rural poor vs urban poor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 15

  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    As for what to do, perhaps re-target existing assistance toward funding migration from less livable areas to more livable areas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. MikeSJ says:

    Natural Gas is cheaper than coal.

    Generally when you have a choice in power supplies you pick the cheaper source of power.

    Natural Gas is replacing Coal because of the fact Natural Gas is now cheaper than coal.

    Coal jobs are disappearing because of this.

    See? By reading this you know more about the economies of coal than all the people who voted for Trump believing he’s going to bring back the coal jobs.

    Look, I get that people are desperate and I’m sorry for their plight but Jesus Christ, at a certain point they have to face facts. Part of being an adult is having to deal with uncomfortable truths.

    Your aren’t going to be a Pro Athlete. You aren’t going to bang a Victoria’s Secret Model. You aren’t going to win the Lottery. You are an adult. You deal with it.

    I don’t know how more much sympathy I can extend to these people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  16. KM says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Ah, yes. Sympathy. This keeps coming up over and over again. Liberals aren’t sympathetic enough, don’t empathize enough with our rural brethren. We don’t care enough because we’re so smug and arrogant with our solutions. We’re not listening to them when they tell us that mine HAS to reopen.

    Bull. Shit.

    We’re not blowing smoke up their asses like the back-stabbing cons who cheerfully promise everything’s gonna be alright, take the vote and then leaves them to die. We are being realistic, which is unsympathetic by nature. The thing is, urban poor have intrinsic advantages rural poor do not by virtue of sheer numbers. If Walmart can’t be bothered to build within 50 miles of you because there aren’t enough purchasers, then why do you think a factory will build there and not hurt for workers? Meanwhile, the Rust Belt cities rot but can be condensed, re-purposed. They already have infrastructure in place that a business can use instead of having to build it all from scratch. We can lure industry to a town of 10,000 easier then one of 1,000. I cannot imagine the amount of kickbacks/ sweetheart deals it would take to get something like that to happen, let alone make them stay long enough to be viable.

    It’s a matter of logistics, not caring. National triage since we can only stop the bleeding in so many places with the resources we have…. and they do not get automatic priority. Frankly, there are some Northern cities I don’t think can be saved either. My advice to them is the same: forget sentiment and follow the money. But fine, let’s all have a cuddle instead and pretend these places are viable. Because this election has taught us sounding sympathetic is more important then being sympathetic.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 0

  17. Tyrell says:

    @KM: I do think that the coal mining towns and the people should be taken care of and helped in some way. It would be a shame for those places to shutter up and lose their culture, history, and legacy. Something needs to be done to prevent all those areas from dying and becoming ghost towns.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  18. KM says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    As for what to do, perhaps re-target existing assistance toward funding migration from less livable areas to more livable areas.

    Which is what several of us have been promoting. So we’re not allowed to tell them their town’s dying so they should GTFO but give them money to move anyways? Got it. We’ll ignore the elephant in the room. Cuz that always works so well….

    Apologies if I’m coming across as bitchy but it *really* drives me crazy to be told I’m unsympathetic to rural America when I still have family trapped there. 9 times out of 10 I’m being lectured by someone who’s never *been* to flyover country, let alone lived in it but goddamn if they don’t dismiss a survivor’s advice on how to fix things in favor of touchy-feeling political introspection.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 0

  19. Pch101 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    perhaps re-target existing assistance toward funding migration from less livable areas to more livable areas.

    I’m all in favor of that, and have actually suggested that more than once on this website.

    There are two groups who would oppose this:

    -Conservatives who don’t want to spend the money
    -The rural residents who want to stay

    I’m a commie pinko for suggesting that sort of social engineering. Apparently, squandering money on keeping people trapped in dying towns is good because freedom.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  20. Gustopher says:

    @Tyrell: How much will you be willing to pay for that, in increased taxes?

    We could totally dig coal out of one mine, ship it to another state, and bury it in a different mine — it’s entirely doable, and creates jobs in two different states, so the workers can preserve their way of life. How much is that worth to you, in a dollar value?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  21. Jc says:

    Instead of throwing money down a well by propping up a failing energy source, why not sink some money into education and development for those in areas so dependent on one industry. They have no alternative than to hope for a coal comeback, because there is no way in hell they can just come up with 50K+ to get a college education and move into a different industry.

    I wonder had they read Clinton’s plan would they have opted that route, rather than believing a snake oil salesman

    https://www.hillaryclinton.com/briefing/factsheets/2015/11/12/clinton-plan-to-revitalize-coal-communities/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  22. Bokonon says:

    @Jc:

    I wonder had they read Clinton’s plan would they have opted that route, rather than believing a snake oil salesman

    I don’t want to sound cynical, Je, but a lot of these people never even considered Hillary Clinton as a candidate, even for a moment. They came into this election ready to vote for just about anyone other than a Democrat, because of guns, abortion, and cultural issues, not to mention a decade of talk radio slamming of the Democrats over the “war on coal”. So these voters didn’t read Clinton’s positions, and they wrote her positions off as lies and bogus political positioning. They didn’t care. They weren’t open to listening. And the Democrats are going to have a hard time fixing this rigid, locked-in dynamic.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 0

  23. Tyrell says:

    Clinton’s revitalization plan: sounds like a very good plan, especially the investment in education and attracting investors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. Jenos The Deplorable says:

    Let’s get just a little contrary here. Coal does, indeed, have some advantages over natural gas and other fuels.

    For one, it’s a hell of a lot safer to transport. LNG tanker and tank cars? Floating/rolling bombs. Oil tankers and pipelines? Massive pollutant spills waiting to happen.

    Coal transport accident? Break out the shovels.

    Coal is also dirtier, but it’s a lot less dirty than it used to be.

    Yes, the coal industry is dying. But why not it let it die a natural death? No more subsidies, but no more outright efforts to kill it. Offer retraining and look for alternate uses for the stuff, but no more hostility.

    When Obama said in 2008 that “if somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them,” that pissed a LOT of people off. And there was no reason for it. Especially when he coupled it with “Under my plan … electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

    People tend to remember things like that. And they start thinking about how it affects them directly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  25. KM says:

    @Jenos:
    While I agree with the majority of your comment, I must note:

    Coal transport accident? Break out the shovels.

    You’ve never been in the presence of coal in your life, have you? The dust is the problem. The vast majority of explosions have been because of dust, not the chunks of rock you’re probably imagining. A truck accident would certainly make a dust cloud (size may vary) that any spark would light up. It’s a massive safety hazard. It’s a rolling bomb of a different sort.

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  26. JohnMcC says:

    Would remind everyone that the energy companies and I guess the Trump voters of Appalachia see nothing wrong with the process of ripping the top off a mountain, dropping the debris into the valleys around that mountain and then topping the disaster with the acidic waste water that results from digging in exposed veins of coal with bulldozers. That is how they show their love for their homeland.

    Would also remark that the deadly air in Peking and New Delhi is only a replay of the ‘killer fogs’ that London experienced some 200 years ago. But the world somehow manages to be surprised by the phenomenon.

    There is far too much money paid to those who chose to be stupid for good policy to win out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  27. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Jenos The Deplorable:

    Coal transport accident? Break out the shovels.

    Centralia mine fire

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  28. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JohnMcC:

    the ‘killer fogs’ that London experienced some 200 years ago

    Or as recently as 64 years ago, but the point is a valid one. Despite having ample evidence of the dangers of doing so, Churchill continued to urge Britons to burn coal at a breakneck rate (partly to create the illusion of a viable coal industry in the North). Toss in an anti-cyclone and this is what you get.

    It’s pretty clear that – on just about any level – coal is a dead energy source.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  29. Tyrell says:

    @JohnMcC: Well, that is true, but the culture and the people should be helped. It would be terrible for these towns and villages to just fade away. They are honest, hard working people who did not get paid enough for what they did. The coal industry kept the lights and heat on in countless homes and buildings. There is a closeness and way of life there that can’t just be written off or forgotten. It is part of the country’s history. The areas of West Virginia and Kentucky are very scenic.
    I just don’t think that another important part of history should be buried and forgotten like some have been.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  30. KM says:

    @Jenos:

    Yes, the coal industry is dying. But why not it let it die a natural death? No more subsidies, but no more outright efforts to kill it. Offer retraining and look for alternate uses for the stuff, but no more hostility.

    That is a loaded word. No subsidies? Does that mean taking away what subsidies already exist? That’s hostility in their eyes. Not allowing a new plant or refinery to be built? Hostility. Picking any other energy source over coal? Hostility! If you are advocating status quo, be aware you just named yourself to their enemies list. Nothing less then active promotion is acceptable to them.

    Remember: they don’t want it gone, they want it to thrive. Palliative care for the industry has gotten it to where it is now so anything that’s not a cure is hastening death to these towns.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  31. NW-Steve says:

    @Tyrell:
    Perhaps more accurate to say: “The areas of West Virginia and Kentucky used to be very scenic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. NW-Steve says:

    @Tyrell:
    Perhaps more accurate to say: “The areas of West Virginia and Kentucky used to be very scenic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. Slugger says:

    Was coal mining really a good deal for the miners? I am a John Prine fan, and his song, Muhlenberg County, is rather sad. If you google coal mining songs in general, you get a lot of dirges.
    I always imagine Stash and Jan in a coal mine in Silesia dreaming of escaping to America and winding up in a mine in Pennsylvania. Yes, their grandchildren are much better off. However, the grandchildren are better off because they are not stuck in the mines. We need to look for a path out of the coal mines for the people in coal country. Right now, natural gas beats coal. If Elon Musk is anywhere close to being right, another revolution in energy is not far away with renewables and new battery technology on the horizon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. Slugger says:

    @Slugger: Oops, the John Prine song about Muehlenberg County is entitled Paradise. It and many other coal mining songs are worth a listen. I trust poets more than politicians.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. Kari Q says:

    @Tyrell:

    They are honest, hard working people who did not get paid enough for what they did. The coal industry kept the lights and heat on in countless homes and buildings.

    Whale oil used to light up homes, too. There was an entire way of life built around it. The whaling industry was centered in U.S. which had more than three times the whaling ships of all other countries. It died. No one tried to save it. And thank heaven we aren’t still propping up the whaling industry because of history and tradition and the way of life.

    Tying yourself to dying industries is an economic disaster. It’s really better to help the people move away to a place where they can get jobs and have some hope that their children will have a future.

    My father retired to Oklahoma after working in California. We visit him and drive through Kansas, Nebraska, and see small towns with boarded up buildings, abandoned homes, and down towns that are dying. We try to figure out what the economic base for the community is now, what it once was that it was able to support the number of people living there now. It’s not always clear. What is clear is that those towns aren’t going to be saved. It’s time for the people to move.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  36. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @KM: You don’t, but you can leave out the messages about people needing to learn their lessons and stop being bitter losers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @KM: Thank you. I was going to bring that up–my county is debating opening a coal transport pier on the Columbia River at this moment–and now I don’t have to.
    @Jenos The Deplorable: Click.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    It wasn’t until undertakers began to run out of coffins and florists out of bouquets that the deadly impact of the Great Smog was realized.

    And once again, swift action on the part of The Market [tm] saves the day.

    Wait… It didn’t? Hmmmm…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  39. Tyrell says:

    @NW-Steve:
    “Almost heaven West Virginia, Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah River” (the incomparable John Denver).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  40. JohnMcC says:

    @Tyrell: Actually I’m sort of a naturalized hillbilly. Lived for 30 some years in the area of Bristol–Knoxville. My first wife was from a family whose roots are in Sevier County which you have driven through on the way to Gatlinburg. I wouldn’t criticize Appalachian people without having empathy and complete understanding of them.

    Let me explain something about the ‘scenic’ mountain landscape — it didn’t always look that way. Pictures of east TN and western NC from the ’30’s and earlier show a land shorn of almost all it’s forests, dotted with impoverished shacks and cabins, criss-crossed by split rail fences. The people lived as people had lived for hundreds of years — subsistence farming. Those wonderful crafts you see were what these people did to survive. The canning and quilting and woodworking were what they HAD to do because they literally had nothing.

    They exhausted the soil. They eroded the hillsides. They starved when crops failed. There is an annual festival in many east TN towns to celebrate the early spring emergence of ‘ramps’. Which is an onion-like plant that is the first to appear after snow melts. They taste like scallions somewhat but they have a huge cultural meaning because it was the first vitamin-rich, fresh, green food those folks had every year. My mother-in-law was a teenager when they got electricity; they had used ‘coal oil’ (kerosene) lamps until the late ’30’s.

    What made the difference? The U.S.Government. The TVA. Oak Ridge. Interstate highways. Universities.

    Those wonderful, resourceful Appalachian folks have a sense that they live so well these days because of their own exceptional qualities. And they have some wonderful characteristics indeed.

    But they did NOT ‘build that themselves’. They got it because of FDR, the New Deal and World War 2.

    And their agricultural industry was allowed to die. As the coal industry is dying. And they and their land will be infinitely better off when coal is dead.

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  41. MikeSJ says:

    @Tyrell:

    …Well, that is true, but the culture and the people should be helped. It would be terrible for these towns and villages to just fade away….

    We live in a capitalist society. Capitalism = Creative Destruction. Dying industries end up dying until they are dead.

    I also don’t see these people rushing to embrace heavy industry socialism. Quite the contrary, they vote Republican. A party that worships Capitalism and Small Government and Low Taxes

    So who’s going to be the one to preserve their way of life for them? Not me. Not the Government. Not the taxpayers.

    Last one out gets to turn off the lights. Never mind, by then the lights will have been shut off…

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  42. Tyrell says:

    @JohnMcC: I have spent a lot of time in Boone. On nice, spring days we would run over to Bristol. Blowing Rock is also a good place; has a great barbecue restaurant.

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  43. Sleeping Dog says:

    Even if the market and environmental issues related to coal are solved and demand returns, the jobs aren’t. The mining whether strip or underground will be done by robotic machines.

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  44. Matt says:

    @Jenos The Deplorable:Meanwhile with coal you have fly ash ponds that basically never go away.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill

    Oh and they keep spilling all over the place. There’s tons of examples if you do a quick google search for “fly ash pond spill”.

    From excavation to burning at the plant coal power produces tons of heavy metal and radioactive waste Yes those fly ash ponds are radioactive too along with carrying deadly heavy metals.

    Coal is the deadliest source of energy in existence by a large margin.

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  45. rachel says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I guess that comes from being born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and rounding third base.

    It’s really a bad idea to run with a spoon in your mouth. If you trip, you’re going to fall face-down on that sucker and wind up with the spoon bowl jammed into your oropharynx.

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  46. stonetools says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    As for what to do, perhaps re-target existing assistance toward funding migration from less livable areas to more livable areas.

    Aren’t libertarians against Big Gumint assistance because it makes the poor dependent, etc, etc?
    You are right that government has a duty to help, and it’s interesting that it’s just these Appalachians who are already dependent on government aid are the ones who do not empathize at all with urban poor and who keep voting in Republicans who don’t give a crap about any poor people.
    The Democrats are at least interested in helping , although they haven’t come up with great ideas yet.There should be generous relocation and retraining assistance, and maybe we should just cut these guys a big redundancy check and let them figure out. Whatever happens, it’s the Democrats who are going to eventually rescue their sorry a$$es.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  47. stonetools says:

    Additionally, the expansion of the renewables side of the energy sector is likely to continue

    Thank Obama that he kickstarted the renewable energy sector with his farsighted fiscal stimulus in 2009:

    It doubled our renewable power generation; it increased solar installations over 600 percent; it essentially launched our transition to a low-carbon economy.

    We can look forward as well to green collar jobs eventually replacing at least some of those coal jobs. After all, robots can’t instal those solar panels on buildings and those wind turbines will need to be built and maintained by Americans. As usual with technology, there will be new jobs we haven’t even thought of yet. They just won’t be coal jobs.

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  48. Tyrell says:

    @HarvardLaw92: But an energy source that kept the lights, heat, machines, appliances, and communications going for a century. What was the alternative?

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  49. anjin-san says:

    @KM:

    You’ve never been in the presence of coal in your life, have you?

    My grandfather grew up in coal mining country. Grinding, killing poverty. Five of eleven siblings did not live to adulthood. My grandfather was sent down to work in the mines when he was seven, he almost died.

    Owners who cheerfully send poor people to their deaths while they live in luxury.

    What a friend the 19th century has in Jenos. The sooner this industry vanishes, the better.

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  50. anjin-san says:

    @stonetools:

    Having solar is fantastic. Every morning the sun comes up and our house starts making electricity. That anyone opposes this is astonishing. Never underestimate the greed, stupidity and short sightedness of human beings :(

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  51. Hal_10000 says:

    I always think of a line from Claire Berlinski’s Thatcher biography when she was talking about the coal industry that the Iron Lady essentially ended:

    Good riddance.

    This is a terrible industry that destroys the bodies of men by sending them deep into the Earth to mine an inefficient pollution-belching fuel. I realize it is going to hit a lot of communities hard (as it did in the UK) and I am not above finding a way to help those areas. But the day the last nugget of coal is pulled out of the Earth will be a great day. It will be the day we’ve found much much better ways of powering our civilization.

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  52. Guarneri says:

    The death of the coal industry, eh? It is true that natural gas is cheaper, but the much ballyhooed alternatives is only expected to increase from 8% of electricity production to 10% in the next few years. There is also metallurgical coal, coal feedstocks for chemicals production, coal gasification and, hate to break to you guys, US coal consumption was actually increasing prior to the recession, and has now resumed. Coal has issues to deal with, but calling the industry dead is for know nothings.

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  53. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @anjin-san: My grandfather was a miner in Roslyn, WA–he was a plumber, what they now call a safety engineer, so he made pretty good money. He told my dad and my uncle that they could do whatever they wanted to do for work, but if they decided to go into the mines, he’d shoot them himself.

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  54. J-Dub says:

    When I visit a new town or city, one of the first questions that comes to mind is, “Why is this place here?”. Usually a quick Wikipedia search will shed some answers. Most of the time, the original reason has long since passed, at which point they either needed to find a new reason for being or begin the long decline that eventually leads to Trumpism and apparently, heroin addiction.

    Upstate New York is one of the best examples of this. Many of the cities of upstate NY were built on trade that no longer exists and they have found it hard to repurpose. Long ago, Albany was one of the ten largest cities in the US. Syracuse was at the crossing of major railroad and canal lines and had a booming salt trade. Buffalo, built on mid-west trade over the Great Lakes.

    My point is that these coal and steel towns have been dying a long, slow death. Some of them need to be allowed to die as they are too remote to do anything else. The people that live there need to stop complaining and move the f*** out. Their economy can’t survive on white-water rafting excursions alone.

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  55. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Agreed. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about Thorium cycle reactors. India and China, among others, are investing heavily in researching the technology. It’s fascinating stuff.

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  56. J-Dub says:

    @KM:

    What exactly is your idea to make a tiny cluster of trailer homes (and no, not a stereotype but freaking fact of life in some places) into a thriving community again?

    Key words, “trailer homes”. Hitch’em up and move them somewhere that has a future.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  57. J-Dub says:

    @Tyrell:

    There is a closeness and way of life there that can’t just be written off or forgotten. It is part of the country’s history. The areas of West Virginia and Kentucky are very scenic.
    I just don’t think that another important part of history should be buried and forgotten like some have been.

    I guess we should dress them up in period clothing and have them walk around pretending to live in a by-gone era, like Williamsburg, VA. Instead of coming home with a clay pipe, tourist can bring home a lump of coal.

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  58. Tyrell says:

    @HarvardLaw92: A working fusion reactor needs to be built and working by 2020. This is clean, cheap energy.

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  59. JohnMcC says:

    @Tyrell: Indeed. It’s a great place.

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  60. grumpy realist says:

    @Tyrell: How old are you?

    You’re reminding me of the Sidney Harris cartoon of the bureaucrat making an announcement to the company research staff: “Due to budget cutbacks, we ask that all scientific breakthroughs be made immediately.”

    DUMB.

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  61. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Tyrell:

    :roll:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  62. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Guarneri:

    There is also metallurgical coal

    Demand for which is also collapsing as mini-mill steel (which uses electric arc furnaces) is increasingly replacing integrated steel mills.

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  63. Paul Hooson says:

    When Lockheed Martin can perfect their compact nuclear fusion reactors, burning dirty coal to produce electricity will be obsolete.

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  64. Electroman says:

    @Guarneri: Coal consumption was already decreasing before “The great recession”. Perhaps you meant production, which was still increasing. US Coal consumption last year was lower than any other year before the 1980s, and was down more than 10% from the previous year, 2014.

    http://www.indexmundi.com/energy/?country=us&graph=production+consumption&product=coal
    http://www.eia.gov/coal/annual/

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  65. Matt says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I’ve been pushing LFTRs here and other places for a while 😛

    It’s catching on in some other areas too but China certainly has the biggest push right now.

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