To celebrate their coming to power in the United States Senate, Republicans this week launched their answer to the imaginary “War on Coal” by declaring war on clean air, and thus on all of us. Newly elected West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito introduced a bill that would make it impossible for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions from coal-burning power plants. Climate-change-denier-in-chief James Inhofe, celebrated for bringing a snowball onto the floor of the Senate in February to prove that global warming is a hoax, cheered Capito on from his throne at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The bill would not only eviscerate the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which has not yet been put into effect, but it would forbid rewriting it. Senator Capito said she was pushing the bill not to pay back the coal companies for hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions, and not to make American cities look more like Beijing, but to “protect families and businesses.” She proposes to do that by making sure that said families and businesses are subjected to ever more air pollution and climate change, forever and ever, amen.
In addition, the newly elected Republican Congressman from West Virginia’s Second District, Alex Mooney, has introduced legislation to roll back the EPA’s half-hearted efforts to rein in mountaintop mining.
In the Republican faith, the federal government’s efforts to restrain the choking black smoke gushing from coal-burning power plants, and the trashing of Appalachia’s mountains to get at the coal that is left there, are destroying the industry. Those who regularly visit the real world know it is not this delusional “war on coal” that has brought the industry to its knees, it is the competing natural gas industry, which is providing power plants with a cheaper, cleaner alternative. It’s something we used to refer to, in the old days, as “free enterprise.” When you add to those unfavorable free-market conditions a heavy dose of incompetence and criminality, you get a coal industry in ruins — screaming that it’s Obama’s fault, and ordering their wholly owned politicians to do something.
A perfect example of reality emerged this week when Patriot Coal declared bankruptcy 18 months after emerging from bankruptcy. According to an industry analyst, the reasons for its demise were “a union strike, infrastructure failures, fatal accidents and persistently weak coal markets.” Environmental regulations, aka the War on Coal? Not mentioned.
About those weak markets: the coal industry world wide expanded its capacity feverishly when prices were high a few years ago. They glutted the market, drove down prices, and bankrupted themselves (that’s why Patriot went into bankruptcy the first time). Then the natural gas industry discovered fracking and did the same thing — glutting the market, driving prices down, and simultaneously shooting itself in the foot and cutting the throat of the coal industry. Natural gas prices got so low that every power company that could do so, converted its generators to gas, and coal’s share of that market drops from half to 39%. Did Obama do that? No, he did not.
Never mind the facts, the Republican faith is firm: if we just pollute the air and trash the mountains, everything will be all right. Thank goodness there’s a Democratic Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, to bring a little common sense into the discussion. Wait, what? He’s a co-sponsor of Capito’s War on America bill?
Better stock up on face masks.