D. Dowd Muska


Perhaps Coal Miners Can Grow Belgian Endive

May 12, 2016

It’s safe to assume that Adele Morris has never heard of Ludwig von Mises. After all, senior fellows at the left-leaning Brookings Institution aren’t terribly interested in one of history’s greatest apologists for the free market.

If Morris were familiar with von Mises’s work, she’d understand that her latest “discussion paper” is a sad manifestation of one of the Austrian economist’s key insights. Government intervention, he observed, creates unintended consequences, which serve to breed further government intervention. The wheel keeps spinning, and the “public” sector grows and grows.

Morris’s “Build a Better Future for Coal Workers and Their Communities” is an exploration of “solutions” for a challenge fabricated solely by misguided government meddling. Brookings’s “policy director for Climate and Energy Economics” advocates a “well-designed well-funded package of federal policies” targeting regions devastated by an industry in decline.

Coal production hit its peak in 2008. But the dropoff is accelerating. Between early April 2015 and 2016, “U.S. weekly coal production fell by 39 percent.” (In Appalachia, the dive was 43 percent.) Coal jobs have been disappearing for decades, thanks to efficiency improvements and regulatory ratcheting. But Morris notes that since 2014, “coal-related employment … has been bleak, with recent layoffs even in the most productive Wyoming operations.” Unemployment is now north of 10 percent “in 19 of 55 counties in West Virginia and in 27 of 120 counties in Kentucky.” Worst of all, at least for technocrats such as Morris, “tax and royalty revenues to state and local governments” are suffering. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that a special session of the West Virginia legislature will meet “just 45 days before a potential shutdown of state services if there is no budget approved when the new budget year begins July 1.”

Coal was never destined to be the dominant energy source in America. Technology evolves. Consumers switch fuels based on market conditions. Decades ago, a salutary, science-based crusade against poor air quality in much of the country began to hamstring the black stuff’s competitiveness.

But there’s no doubt that coal’s woes, in 2016, derive primarily from climate-change silliness. Moonbat America has no problem with a 41 percent illegitimacy rate, hundreds of trillions of dollars in unfunded federal liabilities, and healthcare crippled by overregulation and subsidization. But carbon emissions? Horrors! As Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Association told Congress in 2013, “the day after President Obama took office, mining companies in West Virginia began to receive objection letter after objection letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, raising objections to new permits and even already-active operations that were previously approved and cleared by EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.”

The assault’s been long and intense. Earlier this year, the White House suspended most new coal-mining on “federal” lands, and launched “a comprehensive review to identify and evaluate potential reforms” to the lease program “in order to ensure that it is properly structured to provide a fair return to taxpayers and reflect its impacts on the environment, while continuing to help meet our energy needs.”

D.C. energy statisticians predict that worldwide “energy consumption is projected to increase by 48 percent over the next three decades, led by strong increases in the developing world.” Coal, even in an era when greenie-weenies run the media here and abroad, will meet quite a lot of that demand. But it won’t be American coal, as ecochondriacs busily block proposed export facilities. Earlier this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers torpedoed a permit to build a terminal in Whatcom County, Washington. To the south, in Cowlitz County, a similar proposal will likely meet the same fate.

Morris, of course, has no problem with exterminating the coal industry. A professional climate-change alarmist, she accepts that the campaign must be waged, if the Pale Blue Dot is to be saved from the Koch Brothers. But wars produce victims. And she believes that coal’s casualties need, as compensation, a carbon tax. That’s the tool to raise funds “to help hard-hit communities and families make the necessary transitions to a more diverse economic base, to new careers, and through retirement.” (A “truly effective set of measures,” she gushes, “if done well may even make [beneficiaries] better off than they would have been absent climate policy.”)

In Morris’s bizarre world, only a policy that enhances the mass hysteria that’s brought so much carnage to Coal Country can offer succor to unemployed miners, shuttered businesses, and plunging government revenues. A simpler, and cheaper, alternative: End the War on Coal.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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