Response to NY Times editorial
I submitted this response to the NY Times editorial board on March 29th. However, I did not receive a reply to my email and the response was not printed. Therefore, I am publishing it on the Coalblog to get our views out to the public. — Jason Hayes, ACC
I was concerned to see “Wall Street’s Retreat From King Coal,” the New York Times Editorial Board’s March 27, 2016 account of market and regulatory factors affecting coal, its characterization of coal’s environmental performance, and its criticism of Senator Mitch McConnell’s defense of the U.S. coal industry.
Severe energy market pressures are not limited to coal. Oil, natural gas, and coal have all been impacted by a tepid economy and slow growth in energy demand. A mild winter and the continuation of oversupplied energy markets have added to these pressures. Job losses, bankruptcies, and restructurings are occurring across the oil, natural, gas, and coal segments. Each of these commodities has endured business cycles before. However, the key difference in this cycle is that much of the outlook for the energy sector is based on real and perceived impacts of the extreme federal regulatory onslaught so pointedly focused on coal.
While enduring already tight market conditions, the coal sector has been faced with multiple billions of dollars in additional regulatory costs, as well as state and federal mandates that force its competitors into electricity generation markets. And while the Editorial Board lauds natural gas in their piece, it is worthwhile to note that the focus of the environmental movement and federal regulators are now turning to gas as well. Expect to see the cheaper natural gas this article promotes facing similar regulatory costs and pressures in the near future.
Regarding coal’s environmental performance, research by the consulting firm Energy Ventures Analysis showed that the industry was expected to invest over $136 billion in clean coal technologies by the end of 2015. These investments have resulted in dramatic environmental improvements. While industry figures show that coal use in the U.S. more than doubled over the past 35 years, EPA data reports that overall emissions of the six common pollutants on the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) list have decreased by 63%. They also show that since 1970, emissions of the three primary, or “criteria pollutants” (NOX, SOX, and particulate matter – PM) have decreased by almost 90%.
As for taking Senator McConnell to task for his work to defend the livelihoods of American coal miners and the well-being of communities where coal mines and power plants are located, why wouldn’t he do so? Coal and related sector employment numbers in the hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs across the nation. Coal has provided billions through royalties, taxes, and other investments to fund essential government services and infrastructure investment. People are free to disagree with congressional representatives on the positions they take, but their efforts to advocate for the hard working Americans who elect them seems a normal expectation of government representation – especially when policy is being made by unelected bureaucrats in the form of extreme, costly, and legally problematic federal regulations.
Jason Hayes is associate director of the American Coal Council