Coal Mining in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave

“It’s not an occupation for the timid and the weak,” said Leon Lieser, 66, of the coal mining occupation he’s had for the past 49 years.  He’s not kidding.  The job is physically challenging and comes with the risk of getting injured or worse in an explosion, fire or cave in.

Yet, throughout much of the history of the United States, and especially since the Industrial Revolution, workers have had the opportunity to pursue this occupation that, despite the risks, many have come to love.  It is also benefits the economy.  Still, the coal industry may be facing decline at some point in the future.

Some suggest that the free market may be partly responsible, with other energy resources like natural gas undergoing an increase in production and being sold for increasingly cheaper rates.  But that is not the whole story.  Yes, the free market may one day permit the coal industry to meet a natural demise, based on consumers’ preference for better, more efficient, less expensive energy resources.  And that would be acceptable, because it would be dictated by a free people.

Alternatively, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are actively trying to expedite the demise of the coal industry – to the detriment of energy consumers (i.e. pretty much everyone) – through the enactment of excessive regulations and repressive policies.

And, actually, that is what is happening.  Almost 100 coal-fired power plants have closed since 2010, and another 150 have announced plans to close before the decade ends.  Coal used to generate 50 percent of the electricity in the U.S.; in 2012, that fell to 38 percent.

Lieser’s boss, the chief executive of Murray Energy Corp, Robert Murray, places much of the blame on President Obama.  He also said the Obama’s EPA is “on steroids.”

His gripe is justified.

During his inaugural speech, President Obama said, “The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.”

Don’t be fooled by the president’s rhetorical flourishes.  What will be most challenging will be resisting the assault he and his administration have posed on the energy industry in the United States – particularly, on those American energy resources he’s decided he doesn’t like.  Successes in the energy sector have occurred despite Obama and thanks to the resilience and ingenuity of the American people.

The problem is the lack of confidence the President has in America and in Americans.  Not only does he want to crush our spirit, and tell us we “didn’t build that,” but he also acknowledged unabashedly that his oppressive policies would cause electricity prices to “necessarily skyrocket.”

We are a brave people.  We are innovators.  And we believe in the free market.  We are overwhelmingly conservative, and frankly, we don’t need the government to regulate the amount of CO2 in the air.

The Heritage Foundation’s Nick Loris explains:

A host of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit requirements have delayed construction of new coal plants, led to fuel switching, or resulted in withdrawn permit applications.

Georgia Power, a company partly comprised of coal powered plants, is one of many companies that are victims to the Obama administration’s oppressive EPA policies.  Thanks to the EPA’s Utility Mercury and Air Toxics (Utility MACT) Standards, it is the latest company that is seeking approval from the state’s regulators to close 15 power units.  The result will be 480 fewer people employed and the reduction of more than two gigawatts of electricity – approximately enough power for more than 1.5 million homes.

The negative impact on American families, taxpayers, and energy consumers is tangible, real, and immediate.  Unfortunately the supposed corresponding benefits will not actualize the way the EPA has predicted they would.

Loris explains that the EPA vastly overestimates the annual benefits that the Utility MACT would produce.  The faulty math is a result of attributing environmental benefits to this new rule that would have already been produced by existing regulations.  And, in fact, “EPA regulations will not reduce carbon dioxide enough to have any meaningful effect” on the environment.

Conservatives welcome innovative technologies that will reduce the cost of energy.  However, what the President fails to understand is that the free market – characterized by free individuals making decisions about what is best for them and taking business risks – should dictate which sources of energy we chose and when we want to use them.

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