Now that the Obama Administration is finally getting ready to set long-overdue regulations on limiting carbon dioxide at new coal-fired electricity plants, Big Coal and its allies are again beating the “War On Coal” drums.
The rules, which will apply only to new coal-fired plants, will shut down the industry, kill jobs, etc., some claim. It’s basically the same refrain we heard from the Mitt Romney camp a year ago featuring the boss from Ohio-based Murray Energy who ordered his employees to attend a pro-GOP rally.
Funny that in this morning’s The Virginian-Pilot, there’s news that Norfolk Southern railroad set a new record yesterday its biggest coal ship loading ever. It was 168,977 net tons of coking coal aboard the Maltese-flagged dry carrier, the Negonego. Like most of the coal at Norfolk Southern’s Lambert’s Point pier, the coal is bound for an overseas steel mill, this one in China.
The news brought a comment from one “Chriss33” who decried the industry’s “lies.” Other commenters said that power plants are filthy if they use coal. Both gubernatorial candidates Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe have jumped on the coal bandwagon criticizing Obama’s green rules and their impact on Virginia jobs.
Truth Squad time. Here goes:
(1) While it is true that fracked natural gas has cut production of coal used to power U.S. electricity plants, the global market for metallurgical coal to make steel remains robust if somewhat weakened by slowing Asian economies. Met coal ends up in skyscrapers, high speed rails, cars and so on.
(2) Coking coal has nothing to do with power-plant air pollution, here, in China or anywhere. That is because it is not used in power plants. It is used to make coke that is used by steel mills. Granted, these pollute a lot, too. But environmentalists and coal boosters alike always confuse the types of coal and the very different markets. The U.S. EPA does not regulate Chinese steel mills or coal-fired power plants.
(3) A significant portion of the coal mined in southwestern Virginia, southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky is met coal. Almost all of it is shipped overseas to foreign steel mills. That specific coal is not affected by American power plant rules by the EPA. Period.
(4) Cuccinelli and to some extent McAuliffe talk about Obama’s EPA rules killing Virginia coal jobs. Hot flash to all. Virginia’s coal industry has been shrinking for the past 20 years. Employment in 1991 was 10,055. It is now about 4,000. That is about the size of the workforce at Philip Morris USA’s Richmond cigarette factory. It is about 0.09 percent of the total 4.1 million civilian labor force in Virginia. So, if a mine lays off 200 miners in Dickenson County, that’s bad news locally, but it is insignificant for the overall state economy.
It would be nice if people could get their facts right when they talk about coal.
Note: The writer is author of “Thunder on the Mountain: Death at Massey and the Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal,” St. Martin’s Press, 2012.