In 2008, President (then presidential candidate) Barack Obama signaled his intent to bankrupt the coal industry.
Three years into his term, and less than four years after his election, critics of the President's energy policies say his "War on Coal" is having exactly that effect.
Last month, the Patriot Coal Company filed for bankruptcy, a move prompted in part by the impact that regulations instituted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had on the company. According to the Institute for Energy Research (IER), rules targeting the coal industry helped to account for a dramatic drop in Patriot's share price; those rules have also contributed to the slide in the share price of coal companies Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., Arch Coal, Inc., and Peabody Energy Corp, says the IER. Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., has indicated its intent to cease mining at various sites in Kentucky, and lay off about 150 workers.
In Pennsylvania last month, layoffs were also announced by two coal companies, which blamed Obama's War on Coal for the job losses.
"[T]he escalating costs and uncertainty generated by recently advanced EOA regulations and interpretations have created a challenging business climate for the entire coal industry," said the President and CEO of PBS Coals, Inc., D. Lynn Shanks, in a statement to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Meanwhile, July also saw the announcement by the Ohio Valley Coal Co. that it would be laying off workers. Ohio Valley Coal's General Manager Ronald Koontz accused the Obama administration of engaging in a "war on coal seeking to destroy the coal industry and the jobs of our own employees and the livelihoods of their families."
At the end of the month, Ohio American Energy, Inc., a subsidiary of Murray Energy, announced that it would be closing down mining operations that employed over 200 workers. The founder of Ohio American attributed the layoffs to Obama policies affecting the coal industry, and predicted that more job losses would occur as a result of them.
“There will be additional layoffs, not only at Murray Energy, but also throughout the United States coal industry due to Mr. Obama’s ‘War on Coal’ and the destruction that it has caused to so many jobs and families in the Ohio Valley area and elsewhere,” said Robert Murray.
According to Andrew Morriss, a University of Alabama law professor, the effects of these job losses might be more grave than the Obama administration has anticipated. Setting aside the inexpensiveness and ready availability of coal as an energy source, Morriss notes that according to National Mining Association data, a typical coal miner earns in excess of $70,000 per year. Moreover, about 60,000 people work in high-skilled, well-paying jobs in US coal-fired power plants. Those statistics hint at the economic impact that coal workers have as consumers within their own communities, as well as wage-earners in their own right.
A more immediate concern for Obama, however, may be their geographical location. Whereas coal-heavy states like West Virginia and Kentucky are not in play this presidential year, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia are expected to be among the most hotly contested, meaning Obama's coal policies could end up having unintended effects, beyond the layoffs of well-paid, high-skilled workers.