No boom will follow this bust

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Historically, there was always the promise of another boom in every bust.

But not this time. This time it’s different throughout West Virginia’s coal industry.

A week ago, Murray Energy announced more than 1,800 miners at nine locations across the state will be unemployed by late July.

The largest number of those miners will be here in Monongalia County, who will be idled indefinitely. Hundreds of other jobs in nearby counties will be eliminated.

That company, of course, blamed the Obama administration, the “vastly increased” use of natural gas to generate electricity and our state’s “excessive ” severance tax.

None of that surprised anyone. The knee-jerk reaction of our political leaders did not surprise us, either.

According to Sen. Joe Manchin, “Our coal companies have ridden the ups and downs of the market for many years, but they can’t be expected to fight their own government, too.”

Echoing that sentiment, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said, “The administration’s continued overreach has contributed to thousands of coal miners losing their jobs in West Virginia …”

And from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin: “We recognize market forces play a large role in these decisions; however, the market is also being forced to react to overreaching regulations from the EPA.”

But other forces are also responsible for coal’s decline and, like it or not, we are at an economic crossroads.

Perhaps management practices at these companies also have a bearing on such actions as Murray’s recently.

There’s also competition from cheaper, low-sulfur coal out West, and most thick, easy-to-mine seams are depleted. That shale-gas boom is elbowing coal right out of the electricity sector, too.

Regulations are hardly the whole story here, as some would have you believe.

But the real question, besides grandstanding lawsuits and fruitless legislation, is what are we doing to reinvent our economy? If coal is becoming history, as we believe, what, if anything, are our state’s leaders doing to replace it?

Oddly, at about the same time the coal industry began shedding jobs — in the early 1980s — so did the steel industry in the greater Pittsburgh area. However, rather than chase steel mills, that region reinvented itself into a dynamic, durable and diverse economy.

Meanwhile, WVU researchers just Thursday predicted state coal production will continue to plummet for the next 20 years. These trends that are belaboring coal did not start and will not stop with the Obama administration.

But despite the shortsighted political nonsense about coal, we have a choice.

Climb out of the hole we’re in, or bury ourselves in it.

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