As even the most casual student of history knows, yesterday’s friends can be tomorrow’s enemies and vice versa. Germany and Japan as America’s most mortal allies transformed, post World War II, into two close allies. It is worth keeping this in mind to consider the overheated rhetoric about a supposed “war on coal”.
Coal was critical for the industrial revolution and was a serious player for transforming the world over the past several centuries. However, somewhat like international relationships, technology and energy systems can evolve and change. And, our understanding of costs and benefits can shift as well.
While coal for a long period was an absolutely critical part of our energy scene, technological advances have changed that. For example, ships and railroads that once ran on coal now run more efficiently with petroleum fuels and electricity. And, the same thing is an ever-increasing reality in the electricity market. Once the ‘lowest price’ out there for new electricity, natural gas is beating coal down right now due to depressed gas prices. And, increasingly, renewable energy projects are beating coal on a price-point basis — even without considering ‘externalities’.
As to those externalities, we now know that there are very real, very serious, very significant costs that fall outside the price contact — are external to the financial relationship — that are costing us as individuals and adults.
We now know that the mining and burning of coal causes tremendous damage, creates costs from …
brain damage in babies (due to mercury) to environmental impacts (most extreme being climate impacts, but a range of other impacts as well).
If we were to consider rationally those externalities from the mining, transportation, and burning of coal, then coal would be priced out of the market place in market after market after …
While fossil fuel promoters, uncaring about the havoc they create on others (living and unborn), scream that the Obama Administration is undertaking a “War on Coal” there is a quite different angle. They — the promoters of coal — long ago determined that their own profitability was more important than the pain and suffering that they cause others, that cash in their pocket was more important than the damage they cause for all of us. If there is such a thing as a “war”, they declared it a long time ago. It is well past time to recognize that and act accordingly.
Friday’s announcement of proposed carbon dioxide limits for new natural gas and new coal-fired electricity generation has fueled a rash of fossil foolish screaming about a “War on Coal”. Those shrill screams of faux outrage ignore, of course, our expanded (and expanding) understanding of the damage(s) that burning coal causes, all “external” costs like driving up asthma rates, and dismisses the revolution in distributed renewable energy that is pricing new coal out of many markets even without the externalities being considered.
Another angle ignored in that faux outrage, that the coal industry, itself, was the biggest promoter of asserting that “clean coal” was ‘there’ (actually promoting “Clean Coal” for nearly 100 years), ready for deployment, and more than able to foster a “clean” electricity that could go toe-to-toe with and win against renewables in both price and cleanliness. That (dishonest? misleading? deceitful? less than truthful?) truthiness has disappeared from their vocabulary with a discussion of “price” that ignores the vast majority of costs that we all — unborn and born — are and will pay for the burning of coal.
Forget any such “War On Coal”, yesterday’s announcement about emissions rules was simply a shot fired in a desperate defense for our health, prosperity, and security against those who long ago declared war on the U.S. … on all of us.
1. Ken Ward, Jr, is a must read when it comes to coal and West Virginia. After the President’s Georgetown climate change speech, he wrote Here we go again: Will the mining industry’s renewed ‘war on coal’ rhetoric go unchallenged again?
2. While it is well past time to engage in the war that fossil fools have been engaged with against all of us, we need to be sure that coal miners are not collateral damage, something the coal mine industry has never cared about. I like Van Jones’ discussion of this re workers. We need to treat them and their communities as heroes — who literally risked their lives and health to power the rest of us (the rest of the U.S.). We need to invest in them and their communities, with that investment occurring/beginning before mines are shutting down. We need to not promise a better future but create it if we wish to convince them that we do have their interests, as well, at heart.
One of the things that is missed is that coal employment has fallen, massively, even when production went up due to automation, larger machinery, mountain top removal rather than mining … The mining industry, in fact, wants to get the miner out of mining. There are efforts underway to make 100% automated mining operations such that no one will get their hands dirty as they rape the earth with ever greater efficiency.
“While the large-scale uptake of automation will improve efficiency and create a safer, more attractive working environment, a reduction in on-site roles is likely to reduce economic activity in the local and regional area, and could lead to a loss of population and services over the longer term,” said Professor Brereton.Particularly at risk are Aboriginal Australians in remote communities who have previously benefited from employment and business development opportunities provided by mining companies, he said.
“A growing number of major mining companies have made both voluntary and binding commitments to promote Aboriginal training, employment and business development.
“However, many of the entry-level jobs currently held by Aboriginal workers in the mining industry are likely to disappear as automation and remote operation becomes more widespread,”