Coal’s Colossal Comeback
Buried in an otherwise humdrum jobs report for March was the jaw-dropping pronouncement by the Labor Department that mining jobs in America were up by 11,000 in March. Since the low point in October 2016 and following years of painful layoffs in the mining industry, the mining sector has added 35,000 jobs.
What a turnaround. It comes at a time when liberals have been saying that Donald Trump has been lying to the American people when he has said that he can bring coal jobs back. Well, so far he has brought them back.
There’s more good news for the coal industry. Earlier this month, Peabody Coal — America’s largest coal producer — moved out of bankruptcy, and its stock is actively trading again. Its market cap had sunk by almost 90 percent, during the Obama years. Arch Coal is also out of bankruptcy.
It turns out that elections do have consequences, after all. Regime change in Washington has brought King Coal back to life since late 2016 when coal production had fallen by almost half from its peak. The Obama administration and its allies like the Sierra Club tried to kill coal, because of their hyper-obsession with global warming. The Trump administration pledged to coal miners in small towns across America in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming that he would be a friend to American coal and fossil fuels.
As promised, Trump has lifted the so-called Clean Power Plant regulations and several other EPA rules that were intentionally designed to kill coal jobs (and thousands more in related industries like trucking and steel) and shutter coal plants, which they accomplished with ruthless precision. Hillary had promised her green allies that she would finish off every last coal mining job in America.
The coal miners weren’t too happy about this, and her arrogant disregard for a leading American industry that hires tens of thousands of union workers contributed to her losses in almost all the coal states — many of which were once reliably Democratic.
America was built on cheap and abundant coal. Fossil fuels powered the U.S. into the industrial age and replaced inefficient windmills and woodburning as the primary sources of electricity. America currently has access to 500 years’ worth of coal — far more than any other nation. Even despite the last decade’s war on coal during the Obama years, the U.S. still derives about one third of our power from coal — second only to natural gas.
Coal is indispensable today, even if renewable “green” energy starts to catch on, because wind and solar power are only viable with coal burning power plants as a backup for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Without coal, green energy means rolling blackouts across America.
Liberals have argued that coal could never make a comeback because of cheap natural gas. Clearly, the shale gas revolution with prices falling from $10 to $3 per million cubic feet has hurt coal producers.
But economic necessity is the mother of invention, and coal companies like Peabody have figured out how to become far more efficient in their production. What’s more, clean coal is here. Emissions from coal plants of lead, sulfur, carbon monoxide, and other air pollutants have fallen by more than half and, in some cases, by 90 percent in recent decades.
The climate change industrial complex pontificates that the U.S. has to stop using coal to save the planet. But even if the U.S. cut our own coal production to zero, China and India are building hundreds of coal plants. By not suspending American coal production, we are merely transferring jobs from the U.S. Do liberals care more about jobs in India and China than in America?
Renewable energy is at best one or two decades away from being a major energy source for the world, so until that happens, coal and natural gas will compete as low-priced and super-abundant, domestically produced energy sources for 21st century America. Nuclear power will hopefully continue to play an important role, too. Meanwhile, for all the talk of the increase in wind and solar industries, they still account for less than 5 percent of our energy. Almost 70 percent comes from natural gas and coal.
Coal isn’t dead in America. It is unleashed. As a Washington Times editorial put it very well recently, “The left gave up on the 100,000 coal workers in America more than a decade ago. Donald Trump has not.” Remember this the next time Elizabeth Warren or Nancy Pelosi lecture us about how much they care about the working class in America.
Stephen Moore is an economic consultant with Freedom Works and co-author of Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War Against Energy.
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