The Magazine

Country Roads to Nowhere

Obama deserts coal; Democrats desert Obama.

Sep 24, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 02 • By HENRY PAYNE
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Charleston, W. Va.
The billboard high over I-64 outside the capital of this blue-collar state minces no words: “Obama’s NO JOBS ZONE: The President talks about creating jobs but his EPA is destroying jobs.”

Obama's No Job Zone

A billboard in Charleston, West Virginia

HENRY PAYNE

Businessmen across nearly every American industry cite the Obama administration’s regulatory assault—from Obamacare to bank lending restrictions to fuel-economy mandates—as a cause of America’s jobless recovery. But perhaps no industry can count job losses the White House is causing like the coal industry.

“We have been forced by our own country’s president and his followers and supporters to permanently close the operation,” said Stanley Piasecki, general manager of OhioAmerica, in announcing the closure of his eastern Ohio coal mine on July 31. “Both Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden stated that there would be ‘no coal in America’ prior to their elections. They are making good on their intentions while they destroy so many lives.”

“Current market pressures and a challenging regulatory environment have pushed coal consumption in the United States to a 20-year low,” said Arch Coal president and CEO John Eaves as he announced the elimination of 750 jobs in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia in late June, devastating areas like Perry County, Kentucky, which has lost 30 percent of its coal jobs on the way to today’s 13 percent unemployment rate in the county.

Alpha Natural Resources also announced in June that it was closing down mines and 150 jobs because, according to the blog 24/7 Wall Street, “future sales forecasts also are being affected by a series of regulatory actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has resulted in utilities announcing plans to shut down a number of generating stations that have traditionally used Central Appalachia coal.”

For three years Obama’s EPA has done an end run around the legislative process and deployed a platoon of new emissions regulations—forcing older plants to shut down under zealous mercury rules and effectively banning coal plant construction with new carbon regulations. The agency is also waging a permitting battle against mining operations.

Though largely ignored by mainstream media that have cheered the White House global warming agenda, the effect has been devastating to businesses and communities across the eastern coal belt.

The War on Coal has turned politics in West Virginia—where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2:1—upside down. The state is hostile ground for President Obama. In May, he was embarrassed in the state’s Democratic primary when an inmate serving time in a Texas penitentiary made the ballot and scored 43 percent of the vote against the president. Recent polls give his GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, a double-digit lead.

At the Democratic National Convention, Obama told delegates that America “will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation.” But leading members of the West Virginia delegation had already made their choice not to attend in protest over the president’s regulatory edicts. Democratic governor Earl Ray Tomblin, U.S. senator Joe Manchin, and congressman Nick Rahall all stayed home. While Obama touted his “goals in manufacturing, energy” that would “lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy,” Governor Tomblin was the guest at a coal retreat pondering a state industry that shed 1,300 jobs in just the second quarter. The West Virginia delegation was not alone: Pennsylvania congressman Mark Critz, a coal country Democrat, also skipped Charlotte.

In neighboring Ohio, Mike Carey, chairman of the Ohio Coal Association, condemned the EPA’s boot on the neck of that swing state, where six coal-fired power plants are scheduled for closure, taking with them hundreds of jobs.

“If you’re looking regionally, these folks understand how bad this administration has been to the American coal industry. .  .  . It’s an all-out war,” he says. The Romney campaign has noticed. Last month, the GOP’s candidate stood in front of a wall of overall-clad blue-collars at an eastern Ohio mine and denounced his opponent’s “war on coal.”

The administration’s actions are a historic exercise in depriving America of its greatest natural resources. Where the White House masks its global warming agenda when regulating auto miles-per-gallon by citing the need for “energy independence,” its restrictions on domestic coal expose its true carbon-capping intentions. The “Saudi Arabia of Coal,” the United States boasts some of the world’s largest coal reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration—an estimated 240 years’ worth.

The use of coal has not only brought generations of jobs, but also is the backbone of American electricity generation, providing 40 percent of the nation’s electricity—which in turn gives America’s Midwest manufacturing sector a competitive advantage with some of the cheapest electricity on the planet.

In June, Patriot Coal—with 12 mining complexes across Appalachia to Illinois and some 2 billion tons of proven coal reserves—became the first U.S. coal company to file for bankruptcy in years as its shares (echoing other coal companies’) fell 72 percent to 61 cents. There will be no federal coal bailout. Moody’s has downgraded the U.S. coal industry’s outlook to “negative” in part, says the rating service’s senior analyst Anna Zubets-Anderson, because “newly proposed U.S. carbon dioxide regulations would effectively prohibit new coal plants.”

In Charlotte, President Obama conjured cheers from his audience when he said, “My plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet, because climate change is .  .  . a threat to our children’s future.”
In working-class middle America, the threat to the future is Obama’s plan.

Henry Payne is editor of themichiganview.com and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News.

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