Environment
1:00 pm
Fri October 12, 2012

Washington Post Editorial Urges Politicians to Stop Telling Coalfields 'Fairy Tales'

Earlier this week, the Washington Post published an editorial for residents of coal country.

The newspaper’s editorial board is left-leaning, and begins the piece by criticizing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for “pandering” to coalfields residents, promising them a resurgence of the industry if he’s elected.

The editorial is worth a read, if only for its discussion of energy economics, and why natural gas (thanks to recently-discovered reserves) will be around to compete with coal for a long time.

A study from the Brattle Group finds that coal use is more sensitive to the price of gas than to new government regulations. It projects that 59,000 to 77,000 megawatts of coal-fired power will come offline over the next five years, more than its 2010 estimate, despite the fact that, under Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency’s coal-plant regulations turned out to be more lenient than the researchers had expected. The power plants’ reason: low electricity demand and low natural gas prices. Brattle also calculates that a $1 drop in the price of gas would double the magnitude of coal-plant closings over the next five years.

But what I thought was especially interesting was a national newspaper urging for an economic transition in Appalachia (emphasis mine).

When the economics of energy help to redress environmental and public-health problems, the country’s leaders should cheer. They also should help those who depend on the industry prepare for transition, not tell them fairy tales.

This is something that non-profit groups have been encouraging for years, like the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy and MACED here in Kentucky. But it’s a subject that hasn’t gotten much traction from politicians.

No matter your stance on mining and burning coal, some facts can’t be ignored. Analysts are predicting further layoffs in the Appalachian coalfields in the near future and U.S. power plants are transitioning away from coal. Even with the hopes of increased international exports, there will likely still be an employment void that will need to be filled.

When will we see a large-scale economic transition plan for the areas of Kentucky that will be hurt the most by cutbacks in the coal industry?