A dragline is a piece of heavy machinery that uses a huge winch and bucket system often in strip-mining operations to remove overburden (rocks and dirt) above coal seams. It is also the strong strand of silk produced by spiders to create the framework of a web. Its dual meaning seemed an appropriate title for our work in this issue of Energy Ink considering that the coal industry may very well be caught in a web of regulation, economic pressures, and good old fashioned politics which are leaving many Americans asking a question few thought would ever be considered: Is this the end of the American Coal Industry?
For some, it truly feels like the stuff that conspiracies are made of: a government waging war against an entire industry? A true conspiracy must have a cover story – a standard lie put in place to cover the truth. But a really good conspiracy has a cover story on top of another story – lies on top of lies.
When potentially sounding conservative while writing about such things I always feel compelled to remind our readers that we are a centrist-minded publication. We are not conservative, nor are we liberal. We seek the truth through researching the facts. And the facts bear out the simple truth here: The theory that the Federal Government has been conspiring against the Coal Industry since 2009 is no longer a theory. It is a fact. I’m sure many readers are ready to drop this magazine in the garbage with the comment of “no kidding”, but give me a chance to explain because it’s not the “conspiracy” you’re expecting to hear about.
I was among those Americans who didn’t believe the government was actually at war with the nation’s coal industry. I fully understood that the green energy revolution was attempting to elbow out the coal industry as wind and solar projects have come online in the United States at a record pace, but I think it is safe to say that most independent, non-committed, and centrist voters never really believed there was actually a plan in place to completely eliminate an entire American industry. Really, it’s an impossible task… isn’t it? - to end the single most important industry to the economic welfare of the United States?
Though many conservatives have believed this very notion since Obama’s election in 2008, and many liberals have hoped for such an outcome by the end of his Presidency, most American’s haven’t really taken note of the anti-coal rhetoric coming from the left, nor the “sky is falling” panic from the right. But a very well planned assault on both the coal mining and coal energy generating industries is underway.
Certainly, it has always been clear that coal was no friend of the current administration. The kick-off was Obama’s statement during his 2008 run in which he told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle at a January 17th press conference,
“if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
This statement was used against him time and again to prove his anti-coal agenda. But that is where conservative talk show hosts and websites stopped their reporting. Obama earlier said in that same response that:
“...this notion of no coal is an illusion… Because the fact of the matter is that we are getting a lot of our energy from coal… So what we have to do then is figure out how can we use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon and how can we sequester that carbon and capture it. if we can’t, then we’re gonna still be working on alternatives.”
Hardly a declaration of war aimed at the destruction of coal?
After his election, he began pushing for what turned into one of his administration’s ugliest congressional fights, the heated issue of “Cap and Trade” which was essentially an effort to force companies to pay for their carbon emissions output. Simply put – hardcore liberals called it “buying and selling the right to pollute.” Conservatives called it a “Carbon Tax.”
The “cap” would set a limit on the nation’s total industrial emissions to reduce the amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere. Companies would be required to buy credits to increase their individual cap. The hitch was that only a certain number of credits would be sold to industry by the government. However, companies could buy others’ purchased credits in order to increase their carbon limits. In the reverse, companies that were under their limit in emissions would have extra credits to sell, thus creating a market for “trading” emissions credits, all of which, in theory, would encourage less carbon emissions.
The Cap and Trade measure failed to pass Congress in 2010 and has no chance of passing before his second term ends. But the Cap and Trade argument which the Obama administration lost in embarrasing fashion is perhaps THE key issue to remember in looking at the current efforts by the federal government as our series of articles unfolds.
During the 2012 campaign, Republican attack ads in key coal voting states based their entire argument on the idea that re-electing the President would be the end of the coal industry. “Stop the War on Coal,” and “Fire Obama” yard signs stood like waves of soldiers in hope of swaying undecided voters. Liberal bloggers argued to re-elect the President on the same grounds with many claiming that “Coal anywhere harms communities everywhere.”
To hear the conservative talk show hosts on radio and TV alike after the final tally of the 2012 election results was frankly a bit amusing. It was the exact response liberals had to Bush’s re-election in 2004. It was much like a bad TV drama where the entire cast stands outside the surgery room doors to hear the ER Doctor proclaim that a main character “didn’t make it.” The Republican cause to stop the “coal killer” died that day.
It seems the Republicans may have been right. On June 25th, of this year, President Obama announced plans for the most comprehensive reforms to pollution standards for industry in American history. Clearly in the crosshairs of his “Climate Action Plan” is the coal industry. One of the three key aspects of the plan is a call for new EPA rules that “put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.”
He won’t wait for Congressional approval stating he was willing to use his executive powers to ensure the new standards stick. But is this really a declaration of “War on Coal”?
In the very early stages of researching the current condition of the coal industry, I came across several conservative websites that were repeating the same information from one source – Fox News. They reported that on the same morning of Obama’s Climate Action Plan speech, Professor Daniel P. Schrag, an Obama adviser on climate change, and a Professor of Geology at Harvard University, made the following statement to a New York Times reporter:
“The one thing the President really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”
I looked for the New York Times article in which he was alleged to have made the quote. I found the article – but not the quote. It wasn’t there. Yet I kept finding allegations of a word for word quote being made. Typically, conservative AND liberal outlets will exaggerate, stretch the truth, leave out facts, and do just about everything they can to bend the news to favor their political ideology, but to make up a quote is actually illegal. To determine the truth, I called Dr. Schrag at his Harvard office to ask him directly. His secretary fielded the first call. She was very polite, asked me what my inquiry was, and said the professor would return my call. In the meantime, I dug a little further and found a seemingly credible article claiming that the New York Times had quickly edited the article, completely removing Shrag’s comments and all mention of the interview. And proof exists - which is besides the point of this article, but if you are curious, check out this website (http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2013/06/25/nyt-war-on-coal/)
My second call to Dr. Schrag two days later didn’t go as well. After a pleasant hello from his secretary, I introduced myself and repeated my request for his clarification. She paused, then responded with a rather abrupt “he will contact you”. I followed up with an e-mail to him that he never responded to. That was it.
The point is this: Errant quotes by advisors aside, it seems obvious that there really is a “War on Coal.” And it is being waged by our own Government.
But the goal of most wars isn’t always total destruction. So, before moving on to our five article series that provides an in-depth look at the true nature of this “War”, I must push back a little against those readers who are arm-chair quarterbacking this one. In believing you’ve known that the Administration has been on the war path toward the total destruction of the coal industry all along, likely, you have no idea how truly creative - and devious - the battle plan is, nor what the true motives are. And, as with all great conspiracies, this one is complete with a lie on top of a lie aimed at both conservatives, and the Democratic Party’s very own hardcore liberal base.