Killing Coal: The Obama Administration’s Intentional Assault on an Industry

By now, most people are aware of President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to bankrupt the coal industry—which he acknowledged would “necessarily” cause electricity to skyrocket. Seven years later, that is a campaign promise he is keeping.

Since moving into the White House, Obama has used bureaucratic weapons and administrative agencies to assault America’s coal industry. Between 2008 and 2012, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports 50,000 coal jobs were lost—that number would certainly be much greater today. West Virginia has been hit particularly hard with unemployment rates in double digits. Addressing the job losses, the Charleston Gazette-Mail blames the “liberal environmental policies that have accelerated coal’s decline”—which it says have left “hard working men and women” jobless.

In addition to the job losses, Obama’s policies—such as the Regional Haze rule, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, and the Clean Power Plan—have “helped spur the closing of dozens of coal plants across the country,” according to Politico. The November 2015 report states: “More than one in five coal-related jobs have disappeared during Obama’s presidency, and several major U.S. coal mining companies have announced this year that they would or may soon seek bankruptcy protection.”

On Monday, January 11, Arch Coal became the biggest domino to fall when it filed for bankruptcy. Arch follows Walter Energy, Alpha Natural Resources, and Patriot Coal Corp.—all of which filed for bankruptcy in 2015. James River Coal went bankrupt in 2014. The WSJ says: “Over a quarter of U.S. coal production is now in bankruptcy, trying to reorganize to cope with prices that have fallen 50% since 2011.” As a result, a “record number of mines are for sale” and remaining workers are receiving lower wages. In hard-hit West Virginia, starting wages have been cut 50 percent in the past few years: from around $40 an hour to $20.

The Obama administration’s latest stab at killing coal is Friday’s, January 15, announcement of a federal-lands-leasing moratorium for coal mining. Bloomberg reports that “about 40 percent of U.S. coal now comes from federal land.” The announcement came just days after Obama’s State of the Union Address pledge “to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.” In short, the plan is to halt federal leasing while the Department of Interior completes a “Programmatic Environment Impact Statement” that the agency says it can complete in three years—though government projects are seldom completed on schedule. The years-long process will include public review and participation under the National Environmental Policy Review Act. As a result, it is expected that companies will have to pay more to mine coal on public lands.

While mining can continue under existing leases, and the pause will likely have minimal impact as interest in leasing has declined with many government lease sales only having a single bidder, it sends a clear signal regarding administrative assassination. Addressing Friday’s announcement, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, declared: “If there were any lingering questions about whether the Obama administration is intent on decimating America’s coal industry, this should answer them.”

Bloomberg points out that the Obama administration is “facing mounting calls from conservationists to thwart new fossil fuel development as part of the ‘keep it in the ground’ movement”—which Murkowski says is a “misguided” effort that “will harm local economies and threaten future energy supplies.”

While President Obama is currently calling the shots, if Hillary Clinton is elected the battle will intensify as her plans go further than his.

During her 2008 campaign, she tried to help coal companies by “throwing incentives at them to clean up production.” But, the HuffingtonPost, addressing her $30 billion plan to aid communities where jobs have been destroyed by the intentional assault on the coal industry, clarifies her intent: “the new proposal heavily pushes coal communities away from the industry that has dominated their economy for roughly a century.”

In exchange for the economic losses coal communities will suffer through the “green economy she envisions,” WSJ says her “programs are a mix of federal support to rebuild coal communities and aid to workers affected by the shifting energy economy.”

“Hard-working, able-bodied men and women who have lost their jobs,” however, “don’t want a handout from the very government that put them out of work.” The Gazette-Mail posits: “Surely most would rather return to the well-paying jobs they were forced out of.”

Mining communities aren’t fooled by the plan and see it as “nothing more than welfare”—calling it an attempt to “buy their support.” John Stilley, president of Amerikohl Mining in Butler, Pennsylvania, quipped: “We do not want federal money to fund training for new jobs that pay half our current salaries.” According to Ed Yankovich, the United Mine Workers vice president for the district covering Pennsylvania and the Northeast, “Obama’s actions have alienated those who work in the industry from Democrats in general.” He told Politico: “People look at these folks and say, ‘they’ve completely abandoned us, it’s like we don’t live in America.’ There’s a bitterness about it.”

The assault on the coal industry pleases affluent progressive funders and then taxes all Americans for the re-education aimed at buying the support of the workers who used to have well-paying  jobs—all the while hitting the pocketbook of those same Americans as coal-fueled power plant closures and expensive renewables force electricity rates to skyrocket.

And this is how Obama is intentionally killing coal.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.


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