Killing Coal: Obama’s intentional assault on cheap energy

Obama bankrupt coal

By now, most people are aware of President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to bankrupt the coal industry—which he acknowledged would “necessarily” cause electricity to skyrocket. Seven years later, that is a campaign promise he is keeping.

Since moving into the White House, Obama has used bureaucratic weapons and administrative agencies to assault America’s coal industry. Between 2008 and 2012, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports 50,000 coal jobs were lost—that number would certainly be much greater today. West Virginia has been hit particularly hard with unemployment rates in double digits. Addressing the job losses, the Charleston Gazette-Mail blames the “liberal environmental policies that have accelerated coal’s decline”—which it says have left “hard working men and women” jobless.

In addition to the job losses, Obama’s policies—such as the Regional Haze rule, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, and the Clean Power Plan—have “helped spur the closing of dozens of coal plants across the country,” according to Politico. The November 2015 report states: “More than one in five coal-related jobs have disappeared during Obama’s presidency, and several major U.S. coal mining companies have announced this year that they would or may soon seek bankruptcy protection.”

On Monday, January 11, Arch Coal became the biggest domino to fall when it filed for bankruptcy. Arch follows Walter Energy, Alpha Natural Resources, and Patriot Coal Corp.—all of which filed for bankruptcy in 2015. James River Coal went bankrupt in 2014. The WSJ says: “Over a quarter of U.S. coal production is now in bankruptcy, trying to reorganize to cope with prices that have fallen 50% since 2011.” As a result, a “record number of mines are for sale” and remaining workers are receiving lower wages. In hard-hit West Virginia, starting wages have been cut 50 percent in the past few years: from around $40 an hour to $20.

In 2008, Alpha Natural Resources, which filed for bankruptcy in August 2015, was offered a buy out at $128 a share. Today, Alpha, according to Fortune, has 8900 employees but its stock is worthless. CNN Money states: “Since Obama took office in January 2009, shares of many coal companies have plummeted more than 90%.”

The Obama administration’s latest stab at killing coal is Friday’s, January 15, announcement of a federal-lands-leasing moratorium for coal mining. Bloomberg reports that “about 40 percent of U.S. coal now comes from federal land.” The announcement came just days after Obama’s State of the Union Address pledge “to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.” In short, the plan is to halt federal leasing while the Department of Interior completes a “Programmatic Environment Impact Statement” that the agency says it can complete in three years—though government projects are seldom completed on schedule. The years-long process will include public review and participation under the National Environmental Policy Review Act. As a result, it is expected that companies will have to pay more to mine coal on public lands.

“With this latest regulatory assault,” Luke Popovich, Vice President of External Communications for the American Mining Association, told me, “Obama has ensured his legacy as the only President to destroy the industry that has done more than any other to keep American power costs the lowest in the industrialized world.”

While mining can continue under existing leases, and the pause will likely have minimal impact as interest in leasing has declined with many government lease sales only having a single bidder, it sends a clear signal regarding administrative assassination. Addressing Friday’s announcement, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, declared: “If there were any lingering questions about whether the Obama administration is intent on decimating America’s coal industry, this should answer them.”

Bloomberg points out that the Obama administration is “facing mounting calls from conservationists to thwart new fossil fuel development as part of the ‘keep it in the ground’ movement”—which Murkowski says is a “misguided” effort that “will harm local economies and threaten future energy supplies.”

In Wyoming, which supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s coal, the response to Friday’s announcement was swift. Wyoming Mining Association executive director Jonathan Downing said: “This is yet another salvo in the president’s efforts to kill the coal industry. He and his allies in the extreme environmental movement know full well that this measure will make federal coal uneconomical to mine, thereby locking up America’s most abundant and reliable source of electricity generation.”

Governor Matt Mead’s comments include this harsh indictment: “It could not be more plain—in fact, it is starkly apparent—this Administration is no friend to coal when it flatly says there will be no new coal leases until some indefinite point in time.” His press release points out: “Wyoming coal producers pay: federal mineral royalty, Wyoming severance tax, Abandoned Mine Lands, Black Lung Tax, Ad Valorem Property, Ad Valorem Production, and Lease Bonus Application. The industry has an effective tax rate of 40%. All of these revenue streams go to the public in various ways.”

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) released this statement: “When rural America says President Obama has contempt for their lives and livelihoods, they mean decisions like today’s announcement. A moratorium on federal coal leasing effectively hands a pink slip to the thousands of people in Wyoming and across the West employed in coal production.”

Wyoming is not the only western state impacted. Following the DOI announcement, – Congressman Kevin Cramer (R-ND) released this statement: “These proposed rules are an attempt by this administration to shut down the industry as they pursue their War on Coal. There are North Dakota lease applications under review by the Bureau of Land Management and as a result of today’s announced pause of the leasing program they may not be approved. With approximately 15 percent of the coal in North Dakota classified as federal, making the federal coal program more restrictive will be very expensive and lead to job loss in coal country. To mine around federal coal is very expensive and could ultimately make a mine economically unfeasible.”

While the moratorium gives “a powerful tailwind to the industry’s downward trajectory,” as WyoFile’s editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer calls it, the anti-fossil-fuel crowd—including billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer—“cheered the move.” Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has introduced legislation that would halt coal leasing on public lands altogether.

In the Administration’s multi-front assault, no skirmish is too small; no agency is too far removed from the front lines to be involved. Any conceivable attack can be engaged. For example, on Friday, January 22, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold a briefing “to further its 2016 statutory report project on environmental justice.” According to the press release, the 9:00 AM to 5:45 PM meeting, will “focus on the civil rights implications of the placement of coal ash disposal facilities near minority and low-income communities.” Commission Chairman Martin R. Castro explained: “We intend to shine a light on the civil rights implications of toxic coal ash, as well as other environmental conditions, on communities most in need of protection.”

Coal ash is frequently recycled and is an important component in concrete, brick, and dry wall. Its use is encouraged by green building advocates. In fact, concrete containing coal ash was used in the construction of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) headquarters in Washington D.C.

Panelists at the Civil Rights briefing include EPA’s Director of the office of Civil Rights, Velveta Golightly Howell and Associate Director of the Office of Environmental Justice Mustafa Ali. Additionally, representatives from Earth Justice, Waterkeepers Alliance, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy will participate.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is reportedly an “independent, bipartisan agency charged with advising the President and Congress on Civil rights matters.”

While President Obama is currently calling the shots, if Hillary Clinton is elected the battle will intensify as her plans go further than his.

During her 2008 campaign, she tried to help coal companies by “throwing incentives at them to clean up production.” But, the HuffingtonPost, addressing her $30 billion plan to aid communities where jobs have been destroyed by the intentional assault on the coal industry, clarifies her intent: “the new proposal heavily pushes coal communities away from the industry that has dominated their economy for roughly a century.”

In exchange for the economic losses coal communities will suffer through the “green economy she envisions,” WSJ says her “programs are a mix of federal support to rebuild coal communities and aid to workers affected by the shifting energy economy.”

“Hard-working, able-bodied men and women who have lost their jobs,” however, “don’t want a handout from the very government that put them out of work.” The Gazette-Mail posits: “Surely most would rather return to the well-paying jobs they were forced out of.”

Mining communities aren’t fooled by the plan and see it as “nothing more than welfare”—calling it an attempt to “buy their support.” John Stilley, president of Amerikohl Mining in Butler, PA, quipped: “We do not want federal money to fund training for new jobs that pay half our current salaries.” According to Ed Yankovich, the United Mine Workers vice president for the district covering Pennsylvania and the Northeast, “Obama’s actions have alienated those who work in the industry from Democrats in general.” He told Politico: “People look at these folks and say, ‘they’ve completely abandoned us, it’s like we don’t live in America.’ There’s a bitterness about it.”

The assault on the coal industry pleases affluent progressive funders and then taxes all Americans for the re-education aimed at buying the support of the workers who used to have well-paying jobs—all the while hitting the pocketbook of those same Americans as coal-fueled power plant closures and expensive renewables force electricity rates to skyrocket.

And this is how Obama is intentionally killing coal.


The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE).


She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column.


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