Western coal’s unfair, taxpayer-supported advantage

An editorial from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Here’s an explanation for West Virginia’s coalfield woes that you don’t hear every day: Western coal is so cheap and impossible to compete with because the federal government undercharges companies for the privilege of mining on public land.

That means, while West Virginia communities are struggling with job losses and falling local government revenue to support sheriff’s departments and other services, they are also, like all Americans, underwriting profits for Western coal companies. Something ought to be done.

Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan, independent study group, published a report called “Revitalizing Appalachia: How to Strengthen West Virginia’s Industrial Economy.”

The report, co-written by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, cites the well-known factors driving down coal-mining employment in this region, including mechanization, abundant supplies of cheaper natural gas and mined out seams.

But Appalachian coal also has trouble competing with cheaper Western coal. One of the reasons is that Western companies, such as those in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, operate on public land. Federal policy regarding those operations is outdated…

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