Opinion

The Charleston Gazette: Coalfield distress

From the editorial page of The Charleston Gazette:

Researchers at West Virginia University found that coal mines in the northern half of the state are doing well, increasing output by 8 percent per year between 2011 and 2014. But mining in southern counties is an economic tragedy.

Southern production fell nearly half (46 percent) between 2008 and 2014, a new WVU report found. This dragged down the state’s total output, from 158 million tons in 2008 to 115 million in 2014 — with further loss to 98 million forecast for next year.

About the same time the WVU study was released, Murray Energy and Alpha Natural Resources — West Virginia’s two largest producers — announced 1,800 more miner layoffs, and Patriot Coal filed for bankruptcy a second time.

All this adds up to grief in southern counties. Families and communities are devastated by job and income loss. Real suffering results.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a project of Investor Watch, warns investors that U.S. coal is in “structural decline.” It says 26 mining firms have failed in the past three years and 264 mines have closed. In a five-year span, coal corporation stocks lost 76 percent of their value “in spite of the Dow Jones Industrial Average increasing by 69 percent during the same period,” it reports.

Andrew Grant of the Carbon Tracker Initiative said: “The roof has fallen in on U.S. coal, and alarm bells should be ringing for investors in related sectors around the world. These first tremors are amongst the clearest signs yet of a seismic shift in energy markets, as high-carbon fuels are set to be increasingly outperformed by lower-carbon alternatives.”

Why aren’t West Virginia leaders launching emergency strategies to cope with the snowballing economic change? Why don’t they seek ways to rescue suffering counties and towns? Why do they endlessly blame coal’s decline on federal pollution-control laws?

On June 1, a volunteer group called United Citizens for Coal was launched in Boone County, declaring: “We can’t sit back and watch our communities destroyed.” President Roger Horton said:

“We are struggling with a shifting economy, a generation lost to drugs and social decay, a failing education system and a political system that seems unable to meet these challenges.”

We hope this grassroots organization doesn’t simply howl against pollution controls, but spurs intelligent planning to help Southern West Virginia adapt to the profound transformation that is in progress.

– See more at: http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150603/GZ04/150609835/1453#sthash.Ubi5Rfvt.dpuf

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