Let's start with a fair premise. I hate coal. I have supported anti-coal causes from when I was a teenager and saw the destruction in the Adirondacks from acid rain caused by Ohio power plants. I think that coal is a scourge that causes tremendous health damage and, according to the Sierra Club, which I belong to, kills about 20,000 people a year.
As most of you know, I favor aggressive expansion into natural gas plants as a bridge fuel that can reduce harmful emissions until we develop more economical sources of safe power.
But I watch aghast as the powerful environmental lobby, not content with the huge wins it has had in closing old coal plants here, is now attempting to shut down our own exports to countries still tied to coal-burning power plants, in some cases more than ever, because of the rapid shutdown of nuclear plants everywhere because of the Fukushima tragedy.
This weekend, in a fabulous piece in the New York Times, we saw the stark contrast between the greens in our country who want to shut down coal ports and block new ones vs. the people of a poor Native American tribe who are starved for jobs, with only the coal industry giving them much of an opportunity to work. But we are closing coal plants so quickly in the U.S., especially the ones mandated by President Carter in the late 70s to get off of our OPEC addiction, that those jobs will most surely soon wilt away without exports.
Cloud Peak (CLD), the coal company in question is only one of many that could be hard hit. We know from the fiasco that was the Walter Energy (WLT) stock halt on Friday, as it attempted to raise money to fix its balance sheet, that the stress in the coal patch is now very dire. The only real hope for those employed by these companies is more terminals to ship to the coal-starved Asian nations.
It's not as if we stop mining it and shipping it, they will stop using it. There's plenty of coal that can take up the slack, but our coal is preferred for both its quality and ease of transport. We will simply be exporting more lightly-skilled jobs overseas.
But this trumping of job creation for the poorer and less skilled on behalf of what tends to be the wealthy elites who have few employment fears has been at the heart of this administration's energy program, if you can call it that. I have asked the representatives of this administration a myriad of times if they can choose to balance jobs vs. environmental concerns and they simply refuse to answer in any coherent way. I now fear that the president will say yes to Keystone, but as part of any compromise will put in a carbon tax which will severely hinder our economy and promote more job exporting, this time to the Chinese and Mexico.
There's a cost-benefit to everything. But not when it comes to the greens. They only see the benefits to the skies, not the losses to the workers in what is a country that is struggling to produce enough jobs to put food on the table. There's nothing wrong with exporting coal to China and then demanding that the Chinese do their best to clean the skies if they want free trade. Instead, we will simply stop sending it and other nations will provide it with no quid pro quo at all. It's just a triumph of the wealthy over the workingman, instead of a careful balance that keeps jobs, but also strives for long-term air quality. It's pathetic that job creation doesn't play a bigger role in these incredibly important decisions that lead to incredible hardship for soon-to-be un-gainfully unemployed.