Are coal job losses due to market forces or unnecessary regulation?

An editorial from the Charleston Daily Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The front pages of both Charleston newspapers said it all on Wednesday: natural gas is up; coal is down.

Columbia Pipeline Group announced that it is investing $1.7 billion to build pipelines and related infrastructure to move gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale regions — primarily Ohio, northern West Virginia and western Pennsylvania — to markets across the United States, even reversing the traditional flow of its Columbia Gulf trunk line to move gas from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast.

That announcement follows other billion-dollar investments by players in the natural gas industry in recent years.

Meanwhile, two coal companies, Coal River Mining LLC and Coal River Processing LLC, announced they would be closing their mining and support facilities and will permanently lay off 280 employees in mid-October.

The companies cited “current adverse market conditions” as the reason for the shutdown.

 Tuesday’s announcement came after Alpha Natural Resources announced last month it would lay off up to 1,100 workers at 11 southern West Virginia coal mines and support facilities by mid-October.

Alpha cited persistently weak market conditions — including an excess supply of coal, weak demand and depressed prices — competition from natural gas, and current and looming clean air regulations on coal-fired power plants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as factors in its decision.

The coal industry and its supporters blame a war on coal by the Obama administration for the downturn in coal demand, while environmentalists and the administration say that market forces — a weak economy and abundant new supplies of natural gas — are causing the reduced demand.

Both arguments are somewhat correct…

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