The Two Faces of Coal Opposition

Candidate Obama promised that his policies would bankrupt the coal industry. Fast-forward eight years, and that is exactly what has happened. This week’s news about Peabody Energy becoming the latest and final publicly-traded coal company to declare bankruptcy put an exclamation point on this devastating era for the coal industry. The industry’s losses are quite staggering – losing a combined $30 billion in stock-market value since 2010 and shedding 31,000 jobs since 2009, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Of course, like any sector’s demise, there are several contributing factors. The rise of natural gas as a cheap alternative is clearly one of them. A decline in steel production is cited as another. Yet, even some of natural gas’ success is due to the political and regulatory assault on coal being orchestrated by the Obama Administration and its allies. This has not stopped opponents of coal from trying to have it both ways.

Senator Inhofe’s heated Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, held this week, showcased one aspect. Senator Markey (D-MA) appeared gleeful as he spoke of Peabody’s bankruptcy saying, “we’ve finally begun to win,” completely failing to acknowledge the human toll associated with job losses caused by the company’s dramatic fall.

Thankfully, this terribly inappropriate response by a U.S. Senator was not lost on some of the members of the committee, namely Senator Capito (R-WV), who gave a reminder about the impact of the Administration’s policies:

“This isn’t something to cheer about. This is a human tragedy that I’m living in my state of West Virginia. And they may get tired of hearing about the ten thousand jobs that we’ve lost in WV. The county school systems that are now cutting 30 and 40 and 50 teachers because of the loss of population. The pessimistic downtrodden pockets of poverty that have been created in certain areas of our country … because of these policies. You can say free market all you want. This is the policies that have been promulgated by this Administration … one of the major causes of poverty creation in our country. And I can’t even talk about it hardly without expressing the disdain for the glee that I hear when poverty is being created, people are losing their jobs, and families are being devastated.”

The other face of the anti-coal movement was also on full display this week at the state environmental regulators semi-annual conference (Environmental Council of the States). EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy declared that there was “not one single bit of evidence that [the EPA has] destroyed an industry or significantly impacted jobs other than in a positive way.”

This statement is clearly contradicted by reality and credible studies. For example, the economic consulting firm NERA found that the cost of EPA’s so-called “Clean Power Plan” could total nearly $300 billion.[1] Nearly $300 billion in compliance costs will significantly impact jobs.

The retreat by EPA to the argument that its actions are merely complementary to a market-driven shift has become a regular refrain as job losses pile up in coal country. But this argument ignores the massive compliance costs – not only of EPA’s regulation of carbon dioxide from power plants, but an additional tens of billions of dollars in compliance costs from MATS.[2]

McCarthy’s “market forces” misdirection is of course belied by her boss’ promise in 2007 to put the coal industry out of business. While McCarthy and her colleagues in the Obama Administration have so effectively made good on this promise, her attempt to shift in blame to the market has often carried the day when reported by the media. This argument should be consistently rebutted and exposed for the lie that it is. For every now and again, our opponents such as Senator Markey show their true happiness in the face of America’s misery. We can only hope the devastating nature of their policies is not lost on the American people.

[1] NERA, Energy and Consumer Impacts of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Nov. 7, 2015,

[2] NERA, An Economic Impact Analysis of EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule,

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