Coal Country Papers Chastise Obama’s Energy Policy

Ohio and West Virginia fulminate that the president’s “war on coal” destroys jobs.

The Cumberland Power Plant in Tennessee, February 21, 2004
The Cumberland Power Plant in Tennessee, February 21, 2004 (Steven Greenwood)

The editorial pages of local newspapers in coal mining states in the United States this week chastised the Obama Administration for what opposition Republicans have dubbed its “war on coal.”

The Journal points out that West Virginia is losing thousands of jobs in the coal industry, largely as a result of new environmental regulations that, the newspaper says, are “making it more difficult for surface mines to obtain permits.”

Obama’s defenders insist the war on coal is a myth. But production cuts, mine closings and thousands of layoffs are no myth. They may be gratifying to a White House determined to wreck the coal industry but they are new causes for concern among residents of West Virginia, Ohio and many other states where tens of millions of people rely on inexpensive electricity generated from coal.

The president never was very popular in the Mountain State. He lost West Virginia to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party’s presidential primary election four years ago and to Republican John McCain in November 2008.

West Virginia is the largest coal producer east of the Mississippi River and accounts for one tenth of the nation’s total production. 30,000 West Virginians are employed in the industry. Many more depend on it indirectly for their livelihoods.

Coal country stretches across critical battleground states including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Including West Virginia, the four coal states account for 56 electoral votes in November’s election, more than enough to tip the balance in either candidate’s favor.

President Obama is currently outperforming his Republican rival Mitt Romney in Ohio and Pennsylvania but the former state’s The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register warns its readers, “Tens of millions of Americans will suffer if Obama is allowed to continue his assault on the coal industry.”

Because some industries rely heavily on reasonably priced electricity from coal-fired generating stations, Obama’s plan will be a major job killer. Right here in the Ohio Valley, the Ormet Corp. in Monroe County plans massive layoffs because of higher prices for power.

Across the United States, thousands more jobs are at stake. The industry advocacy group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity reports (PDF) that more than two hundred coal-fired electricity plants across 25 states may have to close during the next five years due to competition from cheap natural gas and more stringent regulations from Washington.

When he was still a senator in 2008, Obama infamously declared that under his administration, “if someone wants to build a coal power plant, they can, it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.” Vice President Joe Biden, in 2007, described air pollution from coal as a deadlier menace to Americans than terrorism.

Republicans sense that the president’s support among blue-collar voters in industrial states may be waning and have introduced a Stop the War on Coal Act in the House of Representatives to prevent the administration from issuing new regulations that “adversely impact mining jobs” and inhibit its ability to “second guess or delay a state’s permitting and water quality certification decisions” once a program has already been federally approved.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph of West Virginia supports the legislation, arguing that it is “vital to the survival of an industry under siege by Washington.” Members of the president’s party, who are in the majority in the Senate, are likely to block it though.

If the president is reelected in November and Republicans do not win control of the Senate, which seems likely, coal may have to increasingly rely on exports. But Democrats are throwing up roadblocks in that area as well.

Almost 80 percent of China’s electricity is generated by coal yet less than 7 percent of American coal experts left the country via western ports last year.

Plans are underway to build six major new port facilities in Oregon and Washington to ship more coal across the Pacific Ocean. However, the Democratic controlled legislatures in those states are debating whether to put a stop to the plans, citing environmental concerns.