In January of 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama made it clear what he planned to do to the coal industry were he to become president.
“If somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them,” Obama said in an interview, according to Politico. “Under my plan … electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”
He kept that promise. In September of 2016, as Obama was about to give his exit interview as president, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported that the United States had 83,000 fewer coal jobs and 400 coal mines than existed when Obama was elected in 2008.
“Much of the blame for the job losses is targeted at federal regulations aimed at preventing global warming, which caused coal power plants to go bankrupt, resulting in a sharp decline in the price of coal,” Andrew Follett of the DCNF reported.
Now, as the price of coal is soaring and energy prices are hitting record highs — with so-called “net-zero” emissions countries turning to coal again — that move isn’t looking so hot.
There are a number of reasons why coal has hit its highest level in a decade. In June, The Wall Street Journal noted that electricity usage had rebounded from pandemic levels, there was a shortfall of natural gas, supply-chain issues were at play and ambitious targets for carbon-emission reduction were, well, too ambitious.
It’s not just that demand is up, supply is down, too — not because there’s not enough coal in the world’s mines, but there’s no one mining it.
“Australia’s Newcastle thermal coal, a global benchmark, is trading at $202 a metric ton, three times higher than at the end of 2019. Global production of coal, which generates around 40% of the world’s electricity, is about 5% below pre-pandemic levels,” the WSJ reported Wednesday.
“In China, dwindling supplies and surging costs have resulted in electricity shortfalls on a scale unseen in more than a decade, hitting industry and prompting some cities to turn off traffic lights to conserve power.”
In India, Reuters reported Monday, half of the country’s 135 coal-fired power plants have less than three days of fuel stocks and power outages are widespread. According to CNBC, gas and coal prices are responsible for record energy prices in Europe — and, with winter coming in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re on the brink of a massive energy shortage.
Much of this, in fact, can be traced to China, which let its reserves dwindle because of an aggressive push to meet climate targets. Beyond that, a diplomatic squabble caused Beijing to pause imports of coal from Australia.
However, the crisis’ causes are wider than Beijing’s inadequate planning.
“Globally, coal supply hasn’t kept pace with demand driven by the buoyant economic recovery world-wide after last year’s pandemic slump,” the Journal reported. “Production last year fell by about 5% from 2019. And ramping up production takes time, coal producers say. They say it can take nine months to get new mining trucks and even longer to install new equipment at mines.”
“When economic growth gets crunched, coal demand slows and everyone thinks we’re transitioning away from coal, but as soon as growth comes back, coal use accelerates again,” energy research analyst Rory Simington said. “There’s a difference between what people perceive happening in energy transition, and what’s actually happening.”
However, there’s no question of perception when it comes to the United States’ readiness to mine coal.
According to Bloomberg, the shift away from coal has been dramatic during the pandemic. In a Wednesday piece, Will Wade reported that the number of coal miners in the United States is down 8.6 percent since the COVID crisis began.
“People who have left are reluctant to come back and young people are even more wary about taking a job in an industry that they’ve consistently been told has no future given the global push toward clean energy,” Wade wrote.
Yes, remember? All of our coal miners were supposed to be building photoelectric panels by now and sticking it to the Chinese, according to President Joe Biden’s climate czar, John Kerry:
John Kerry is asked what his message would be to oil and gas workers who “see an end to their livelihoods”:
“What President Biden wants to do is make sure that those folks have better choices… That they can be the people to go to work to make the solar panels.” pic.twitter.com/i9TYXlD9Jg
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) January 27, 2021
Either the switchover promised by Kerry hasn’t happened as quickly as we would have liked or it just hasn’t been very sunny this year, because apparently that’s not working out. However, every one of these miners could be raking in the money had we not decided coal was public enemy No. 1.
This could have been avoided anywhere in the world, but it especially could have been avoided here. Killing off America’s coal industry prematurely hasn’t just left us worse off, it’s left the world worse off. Not only have we lost jobs and revenue, we’re on the brink of a global energy crisis that could potentially see rolling blackouts and skyrocketing energy bills across the globe, according to The Washington Post — all of which could have been alleviated if common sense had prevailed over alarmism, particularly at home.
Thirteen years ago, Barack Obama promised to gut our coal industry. What he didn’t tell you was how he was eventually going to gut our wallets in the process. It was going to happen sooner or later.
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