Burying the lead: Missing the real coal story

October 15, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

Thomas Peak, center, and Allen Stapleton, right, join others at the United for Coal demonstration in Wise County, Va. on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, coming straight from work at a local coal mine. ”  Groups of coal supporters that lined up sporadically along this Virginia highway were among thousands of people who turned out in at least three states to put a human face on an embattled industry. Its plight has become an issue in the presidential as well as in local and statewide races. (AP Photo/Debra McCown)

In the last few weeks, Columbia Journalism Review has posted at least two separate pieces (see here and here) that made it clear how the mainstream media – especially political reporters — were bumbling the story of how coal policy fits into the ongoing presidential campaign. Anybody with access to Google can do a quick search to find out the truth about the coal industry’s claims of an Obama administration “war on coal.” I tried in a recent piece for The Nation magazine to explain why the notion that President Obama and his EPA have done all they could to stop coal mining is just a myth. For example:

It’s also worth remembering that on one key issue—a new nationwide standard on smog—Obama personally intervened to stop the EPA from moving forward with a rule that, according to a recent Johns Hopkins study, would have helped avoid 2,450 to 4,130 deaths from heart attacks and respiratory diseases each year. And a promised rule to enact the first federal standards to govern the handling and disposal of toxic ash from coal-fired power plants remains long overdue.

Even on coal miner safety and health, Obama’s performance has been mixed. The president appointed longtime United Mine Workers of America safety director Joe Main to run the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. But his term saw the worst US coal mining disaster in nearly forty years, when twenty-nine miners died on April 5, 2010, in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. The MSHA responded with tougher inspections and a flurry of new rules and proposed legislation. But some of the agency’s key rules—such as one restricting coal dust limits underground in an effort to eliminate black lung disease—remain bottled up, a casualty of the White House’s efforts to avoid appearing too tough on business.

So it’s pretty disappointing with the world’s largest and oldest news-gathering organization — The mighty Associated Press — puts out a story like the one that moved on the wires on Friday afternoon. The story was written by Donna Cassata and AP suggested member news organizations use the headline, “Dems in coal states diverge on Obama policies.” You can read the whole thing online here. This is how it started out:

ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio (AP) — Friends of coal are certain they know the enemy.

They fault President Barack Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency for new clean air rules they deride as a devastating blow to a multibillion-dollar industry that has been the lifeblood of Appalachia for generations. The agency standards imposed earlier this year tightened limits on existing coal powered-plant emissions while guidelines on restricting greenhouse gases could affect new plants as early as 2013.

Along the rolling hills of this tiny Ohio town – population just over 5,100 – campaign signs for judges, state legislators and county officials crowd the neat lawns. As the road curves toward the interstate, one banner overshadows them all: “End the war on coal. Fire Obama.”

Barb Swan, who runs Swan’s Sport Shop on West Main Street, is a registered Democrat and daughter of a coal miner. She won’t be voting for Obama and she won’t back Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, whom she contends puts the president’s energy policies over the interests of his constituents.

“If you have a district that’s coal, you fight for coal,” argued the 67-year-old Swan.

The story goes on like that for eight paragraphs until it bothers to introduce any contrary information and, even then, it’s only a weak denial from a White House spokesman:

The White House, for its part, insists that the criticism of its record on coal is unfounded.

“The president has made clear that coal has an important role to play in our energy economy today and it will in the future, which is why this administration has worked to make sure that moving forward we can continue to rely on a broad range of domestic energy sources from oil and gas, to wind and solar, to nuclear, as well as clean coal,” said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman.

The administration points to a 31 percent increase in coal exports and greater flexibility in enforcing the new standards. The economic prospects for coal, Stevens said, “reflect the independent, financial decisions that utilities are making in response to the increase in cheap, abundant natural gas.”


Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns in front of The Golden Lamb Inn and Restaurant in Lebanon, Ohio, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Only then does the writer bother to bring in any, well, facts:

Coal’s woes do extend far beyond the new EPA rules.

Natural gas is plentiful, less expensive and more environmentally friendly. A rush is on in the same Appalachian towns where coal has been king to claim natural gas mineral rights in the region’s Marcellus and Utica shale reserves …

In 2011, U.S. production of natural gas surpassed coal production for the first time in 20 years, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration. China’s economic slowdown and the diminishing demand for the top-grade coal to make steel has affected coal in the eastern United States. Other countries, such as Brazil, are moving ahead with their production.

The story includes some other background paragraphs about coal’s negative impacts, but there’s not one voice in the story who talks about things like water pollution, air pollution or the growing science that shows the damage caused by mountaintop removal coal mining. And the entire piece is told through the quotes of candidates or paid spokespeople. In an 1,800-word story, the AP couldn’t room for one actual expert on energy markets to talk about what’s really happening in this industry.

Part of the problem here is the whole formula of campaign coverage, where political reporters cover the horse race aspects with a focus on polling, the advertising campaign with a focus on 30-second spots, or the rhetoric, with a focus on local “color” to show readers they’ve been outside of the beltway or New York and mingling with real Americans. Providing readers with actual “facts” about the important policy debates is relegated to sidebars by separate “fact checkers” — pieces that don’t get published by every news website in the country like this AP story on coal.

Over at The Huffington Post, senior writer Tom Zeller Jr. didn’t really do much better than the AP with his latest piece, though he got a better headline: Presidential Campaigns Peddle A ‘Bunch Of Stuff’ To Coal Workers. Zeller at least started off with a more interesting premise, by pointing out that neither candidate in this presidential campaign has necessarily carried coal’s water:

With swing states like Ohio and Virginia tucked neatly into coal country, it should come as no surprise that both President Barack Obama and the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, are eagerly positioning themselves as “friends of coal.”

But the truth is, neither man has a legitimate claim to the title.

And the nut graph was pretty weak:

Just how well any of this plays in coal country is an open question, but the coal friendly pretense on both sides has never really stood up to scrutiny. To be sure, Romney is the favorite among coal executives and industry lobbyists. By their estimation, the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama, with its raft of regulations and proposed new rules designed to curb greenhouse gases, mercury, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants from coal-burning power plants, is determined to crush the industry.

Zeller’s piece had the benefit of reintroducing former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship into the campaign discussion:

Asked whether Obama’s ad carried any weight in coal country, Don Blankenship, the former chief executive of the now-defunct coal giant Massey Energy, said, “only for pensioners or the uninformed. Coal miners and their families,” he continued, “are well aware of Obama’s anti-fossil fuel positions.”

But like the AP story, it took an awful long time to get into the meat of what’s behind coal’s current decline:

Still, while it’s true that coal’s contribution to the American energy portfolio is shrinking fast, EPA actions are only part of the picture — and a very small part at the moment. Much bigger, according to most analysts: cheap natural gas, which is nudging electricity producers to switch fuels.

No doubt stiffer EPA rules will make life difficult for coal producers over the long haul — and perhaps even continue to shrink the coal workforce. But what the Romney campaign carefully ignores when positioning the candidate as a protector of coal jobs is that the industry — increasingly mechanized and less needful of manpower — has been shedding jobs for a long time anyway, even as production has risen.

This kind of coverage is very convenient for presidential campaigns, and also for local candidates for statewide and federal offices. The real story of what’s behind coal’s decline is carefully buried within or below the industry’s false narrative about a non-existent Obama administration effort to eliminate the industry. Missing from the discussion, then, is any talk about whether additional regulations are a reasoned and long-overdue response to coal’s downsides. And never mentioned at all are the lack of planning by local leaders to diversity coalfield economies for the inevitable day when coal declines or, eventually, runs out.

President Barack Obama makes phone calls to volunteers at an campaign field office with Alexa Kissinger, left, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Williamsburg, Va. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

41 Responses to “Burying the lead: Missing the real coal story”

  1. Billie Epperheart says:

    Mr. Ken Ward again with his misrepresentation and skewed view of the facts! How can this man be permitted to continue to publish his “Garbage”? The WAR ON COAL is real Mr. Ward!!!! And it is being felt everyday. Ask a laid off miner, a laid off permitting technician, truck driver. Ask them if the war on coal is real!!!! Instead of being part of the problem Mr. Ward I suggest you become part of the solution! Far too long has the anti-coal community received endorsement from the media, It is time the media report the truth!!! While we’ve been mining coal, they have been organizing. It is time for the complacency of the coal community to stop!! It is time for action, time to rise up and speak out!!!! Either get on the coal train Mr. Ward or find yourself exiled as no one will be around to buy your paper if coal leaves West Virginia!!!!

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Billie Epperhart,

    Thanks for your comment … perhaps you could point out what exactly is “garbage” (incorrect, not factual) in the piece you commented on. Thanks, Ken.

  3. Billie Epperheart says:

    For Starters you Spelled my name incorrectly- It is EPPERHEART not Epperhart. Let’s begin with your claim that the “War on Coal” is a myth!!

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    My apologies —

    Perhaps you could provide some detailed explanation of why what I wrote was wrong, including links or citations to published materials which support what you say … Actual facts or published reports would be more much more persuasive than multiple exclamation points.


  5. Billie Epperheart says:

    Wow is that your attempt at sarcasm? How about multiple question marks-emphasis on the question! And I would like to see an article which actually debunks what you call the myth of a war on coal. Obama has said himself he will bankrupt anyone wanting to build a coal fired power plant. Does that not factor into your fact checking?

  6. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Billie Epperheart,

    I can suggest a number of articles you should read which document what’s really going on in the coal industry — Here are a few:

    http://wvgazette.com/News/MiningtheMountains/201210130087 which we published just yesterday, explaining that the mining out of quality reserves is what is really driving a lot of this.

    http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2012/10/09/telling-the-truth-about-coal-plant-closures/ which details a recent report showing that market forces (cheap natural gas) are the main problem for coal.

    http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2012/09/06/coals-future-all-the-good-seams-are-gone/ which links to a report by The State Journal, a business weekly here in West Virginia, which provides more analysis of the market forces at play.

    http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2012/07/16/npr-gets-it-right-on-whats-killing-king-coal/ which links to an NPR story about what’s really killing king coal.

    As for the “bankrupt coal” comments, here’s a link to a story I did about those comments when they were taken so terribly out of context by the McCain-Palin campaign four years ago, http://wvgazette.com/News/MiningtheMountains/201002010239 … Then-candidate Obama was simply explaining that, in order to stop global warming, a policy is needed that requires coal-fired power plants to limit their greenhouse emissions. To quote the comment without that context is to wrongly describe the Obama policies.


  7. Billie Epperheart says:

    Perhaps you should visit http://www.wvminesafety.org/ and view the statistics. The decline in coal of approximately 2 billion dollars in the last year. Then hop on over to http://www.wvsto.com/dept/Admin/Tax/Pages/CoalSeveranceTax.aspx and view the decline in coal severance tax paid out to the state. Those are indisputable facts! I have read your articles and am apprised of the happenings in the coal industry. I see first hand everyday the effects the war on coal, the agenda of our current administration and the the EPA is having on the industry and it is staggering.

  8. Observer says:


    It certainly appears the price differential between natural gas and coal is going in the wrong direction for natural gas advocates.

  9. Billie Epperheart says:

    TOP (5) COAL PRODUCING COUNTIES from 2001-2011
    1.) Boone 324,987,231 tons
    2.) Logan 153,126,944 tons
    3.) Kanawha 150,157,981 tons
    4.) Mingo 147,989,146 tons
    5.) Marshall 129,010,383 tons


    Quarterly Distributions

    October 2011 January 2012 April 2012 June 2012
    25% Portion Distributed to Counties and Municipalities $2,376,417.64 $2,571,436.81 $2,354,876.60 $2,514,845.11
    75% Portion Distributed to Coal Producing Counties $7,129,253.60 $7,714,311.33 $7,064,629.78 $7,544,536.27
    Total Funds Distributed $9,505,671.24 $10,285,748.14 $9,419,506.38 $10,059,381.38

    Total Production (2012 est.) 130,000,000 (-20%)
    Underground (est.) 84,500,000
    Surface (est.) 45,500,000

    Coal Companies Operating in WV 180 (- 23%)

    Number of Mines 229
    Underground 141
    Surface 88

    West Virginia Coal Employment (UG+SU) 16,000
    Underground (est.) 13,000
    Surface (est.) 3,000
    Coal Handling Facilities 2,000
    Contractors 2,000
    Total Coal Employment 20,000 (-16%)

    Estimated Average Annual Coal Wage $68,500
    Estimated Production Value 2012 $7,150,000,000 (-26%)
    Estimated Coal Severance Tax Paid <$360 Million

  10. Alex says:

    Bill, the stats you are listing show, as the other studies show, that there is a decline in production and employment by the coal industry. The other studies/articles however show the reasons behind the decline. How is Obama and the EPA doing this? Here is a link to Wva Center for Budget and Policy projectin the effects of environmental regulations on the industry:


    A better conversation for us to have would be to talk about diversifying our economy.

  11. PJD says:


    Thanks for your work at steering this discussion back to the facts.

    Hopefully, we can eventually move beyond debunking the “war on coal” propagada and re-focus the discussion on:

    1. The role of coal, and resource extraction in general, in maintaining impoverished economies where few benefit from the extracted wealth. The more coal a county has, the poorer it is. I am always amazed in my travels through the central Appalacians how the counties with no coal or other mineral resources (such as the ridge-and-valley region) are strikingly more prosperous than the coal counties.

    2. The enormous global environmental damage coal production contributes to.

    3. The need to transition from fossil-fuel resource extraction to a sustainable economy that distributes the wealth locally and broadly.

  12. Billie Epperheart says:

    Visit http://www.ohvec.org/about_ovec/member_manual.html and view the direct quote from the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition stating the following: Take one of OVEC’s media trainings and then step forward to be a spokesperson for your community. Your stories about Mountaintop Removal and other environmental problems are vital, and the media is essential to getting your story out.
    Again anti-coal groups utilizing the media to further their action. And you Mr. Ward a “West Virginia” enabling them to do so.

  13. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Billie Epperheart,

    I’m not sure where OVEC has been quoted in my stories about what is and isn’t behind the coal decline, but please do point out any stories where they’ve been quoted on that subject.

    There’s no question that jobs and coal production are on the decline in Central Appalachia. But as Alex and PJD pointed out above, the issue in this “war on coal” stuff is whether the Obama administration’s policies are the only or the main driver in that decline in coal production and jobs.

    Perhaps I misunderstand you, but you seem to be arguing that Obama is the cause … if so, please provide some evidence of that — as required by the rules of this blog (http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/comment-policy/ ). If you’re not interested in a fact-based discussion, and simply want to make broad sweeping generalizations, then this isn’t the blog for you.

    Best, Ken.

  14. Billie Epperheart says:

    Lisa Jackson-EPA Administrator has enacted three significant regulations for new air emission standards with an annual cost expected to total more than $13 billion. Several more, including two proposed rules dealing with air and coal ash, could cost an additional $20 billion to $90 billion annually, according to a recent energy report by the Senate Republican Policy Committee.
    According to a report commissioned by the National Mining Association (NMA), the combined economic impact of the EPA’s Hazardous Air Pollutants Rule (Utility MACT), the Cross-State Air Pollution rule, 316 B Cooling Water Intake Structure rule, and the Coal Combustion Residuals rule, include:
    • Accelerating the retirement of 39 GW of coal-based electric generating capacity, bringing the total to 59.2 GW of existing coal capacity that would be retired by 2016. This finding is in line with other published studies.
    • No additional new coal capacity beyond the 12.6 GW of coal projects that have already been permitted, financed and/or under construction would be built during this critical 5-year time period.
    • U.S. coal generation would decline from 1,861 TWh in 2010 to 1,603 TWh by 2016 – a 13.8% drop.
    • Natural gas prices will surge in 2015 by nearly 50 percent as total US gas consumption increases by 2.0 BCFD in 2014 and by another 2.2 BCFD in 2015 in study case.
    • U.S. electricity consumers will pay on average 15 percent more for electricity in 2016.
    • The analysis also took into account the impacts of future possible carbon controls, which addresses to some extent EPA’s NSPS greenhouse gas regulations.
    The United Mine Workers of America has estimated that more than 250,000 direct mining jobs and indirect jobs may be at risk due to EPA’s clean air rules.
    EPA through unlawful guidance has commandeered the role of the Army Corps of Engineers and States in the review and issuance of CWA §§ 404 and 402 permits for coal mines. The guidance has also imposed new water quality standards without following the statutory process for adopting new standards. EPA’s actions have created a de facto permit moratorium for opening new and expanding existing coal mines in the east. A backlog of over 235 CWA § 404 permits has been reduced slightly only because mining companies have become so frustrated they have withdrawn over 135 applications over the past two years. The combination of the § 404 permit backlog and EPA’s continued threats to veto state § 402 permits has disrupted the coal supply chain for electricity and steel plants and destroyed almost 20,000 new and existing jobs.
    According to a report commissioned by NMA, the economic impacts of OSM’s Stream Protection Rule include:
    • An overall decrease in recovery of demonstrated coal reserves of between 30.4 percent and 41.5 percent.
    • An annual loss to the value of coal production of between $14 billion and $20 billion.
    • Total number of jobs at risk, including mining and linked sector employment, are between 133,441 and 273,227 (29 percent to 59 percent of current employment levels), with the Appalachian region alone losing as many as 220,003 jobs.
    • Direct mining jobs at risk are between 55,120 and 79,870, with the majority of these job losses being in the Appalachian region.
    • Total annual federal and state tax revenue potentially foregone because of lost production is estimated at $4 billion to $5 billion.

  15. Billie Epperheart says:


    To view Facts that the War on Coal is Real!

  16. Billie Epperheart says:

    And for future reference my name is not “Bill” @ Alex. It is Billie as I am a female.

  17. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    You’re citing materials prepared for an industry group or by coal’s friends in Congress … can you provide any evidence from any independent analysts?

    For example, how to you reconcile your thoughts with those presented in this article from folks at the Energy Information Administration?

    “While some Republicans in Congress pound a constant drumbeat about the negative effects of President Barack Obama’s “war on coal,” a government official had a different take as to why large amounts of coal generation are looking at retirement.
    “Although environmental regulations have an effect, it is low natural gas prices relative to historic coal prices and drops in electricity demand that are driving the retirements, an Energy Information Administration official said in late June at a Bipartisan Policy Center event in Washington that focused on the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2012.
    “Director of EIA’s Office of Electricity, Coal, Nuclear and Renewables Analysis Alan Beamon said that “it’s the market forces that are pushing it out of the market,” referring to coal-fired generation. He added that “to the degree that it leads to retirements, it is often because these plants are marginal in the first place. … It’s really the demand situation and the coal price versus gas price that is really making those determinations.”

    And by the way, Congress has received testimony from these experts at EIA, which indicated to lawmakers that environmental rules are far from the only factor at play here —

    “In recent years, the U.S. electric power sector’s historical reliance on coal-fired power plants has begun to decline. Over the next 25 years, the projected coal share of overall electricity generation falls to 39 percent, well below the 49-percent share seen as recently as 2007, because of slow growth in electricity demand, continued competition from natural gas and renewable plants, and the need to comply with new environmental regulations.”

    And, EIA’s forecasts indicate that even if you blocked EPA rules on air toxics and greenhouse gases, you’re not going to see a change in the decline in Central Appalachian coal production … here’s what the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy had to say about that:


    Thanks, Ken.

  18. Alex says:

    Apologies for the name mistake Billie.

    “Director of EIA’s Office of Electricity, Coal, Nuclear and Renewables Analysis Alan Beamon said that “it’s the market forces that are pushing it out of the market,” referring to coal-fired generation. He added that “to the degree that it leads to retirements, it is often because these plants are marginal in the first place. … It’s really the demand situation and the coal price versus gas price that is really making those determinations.”

    “U.S. electricity consumers will pay on average 15 percent more for electricity in 2016.”

    For the above, I live in eastern Kentucky. We just recently fought a rate case where the utility wanted to increase our electric bills 30-35% to upgrade the Big Sandy power plant to continue to burn coal as the plant is over 43 years old.This was on top of another 17% rate increase two years earlier.

    American Electric Power withdrew the request because it was demonstrated that the economics of upgrading the plant (which is nearing the end of its useful like) was more expensive than ANY of the alternatives, including natural gas, energy efficiency, renewables, buying off the market or any combination of the above. If the plant continued to burn coal, it wouldn’t even be mostly from Ky or W.Va. as it would be cheaper to burn coal from the Powder river basin or the illinois basin which does nothing for appalachian coal jobs.

    Thermal coal in eastern Kentucky is not competitive, the vast majority of the easy to reach and quality seams are ceasing to be productive and profitable. Even in times of increased production, this did not necessarily mean an increase in coal related employment, and the health and environmental costs associated with surface mining practices in the region far outweigh the benefits of mining the lower quality seams.

    My friend has had his water poisoned and I already don’t drink mine. It was fine through decades of underground mining, when they mined the mountain behind his house the water changed, he got sick, his animals got sick, nothing lives in the streams by his house. Was destroying that land and his life forever worth the 20% of the coal that was left in the mountain after the underground mines stopped? I don’t think so.

    We’re in a race to the bottom and people are getting left behind as companies like Alpha and Arch try to squeeze the last bit of profit out of the land and people while putting the future costs associated with poor mining practices on the backs of taxpayers. The industry doesn’t care about people, jobs, or pensions.

    Continuing the “war on coal” rhetoric only keeps us from figuring out other ways of making the economy work in our region. There is truth to the statement that coal counties are poorer than surrounding counties. Why is the 5th congressional district in Kentucky ranked LAST in the nation when we have had such large mineral wealth?

  19. Bonnie says:

    It seems to me that Mr. Ward continually supplies links to his own blog and articles as his basis for evidence whereas Billie is referencing many other sources. As a person who has watched all this unfold over the past ten years, it seems to me that the environmentalist movement, who are backed by big money, have slowly and methodically edged their way into every facet of our government to the point that they are now able to dictate to our law makers the policies, laws and regulations that help to drive their radical interests. Journalists like Ken Ward have helped the further their mission with repeated assaults on private industry. I would ask Mr. Ward, what industry is responsible or the “poor” status in places such as New Orleans, Mississippi, etc….do we blame the coal industry because these places have a large population of “poor” people. I live in the Coalields and I know first hand who the poor people are. They are generation after generation of people and families who find it easier to stay at home and draw welfare checks and food stamps instead of trying to get a job. In saying that, I do not mean that everyone drawing welfare or food stamps is like that. Many people truly need the help. I am referring to a large number of habitual, lifelong residents who desire to use the “system” as their means of income. In other words, many of them wouldn’t work in a pie factory. So when you call the coal fields the poor area of the state, it sends a message that a job in the coal industry is a low paying job leading to poverty. I think we all know this is not true. As for natural gas, we will be in the same boat since the envionmentalists are already starting their attack on that industry as well. They are simply anti extractive. My question for you Mr. Ward and the environmentalists is this; What exactly do propose for employment for the coal miners when they lose their jobs because people like you have worked so diligently to destroy them? What are your plans or a better, more economically stable WV? What is your answer for the people of the coal fields? How can you help us become less “poor”? What is your suggestion to getting lifelong users of the system to work at a paying job instead of being bits of data that skew the results?

  20. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Thanks for your comment.

    Regarding my posting links to my stories and blog posts for evidence. Well, if you read those stories and blog posts, they either cite or link to a variety of sources – government reports, academic papers, expert testimony, etc. — I post my story and blog post links because that’s where those references are most easily at hand.

    I’m not an expert on New Orleans or Mississippi, either on the culture or the economy or the problems they face, so I won’t get into that. Perhaps there’s a reader out there from those areas who could comment.

    Regarding Southern West Virginia’s coalfields, it seems to me your comment includes a lot of judgments about the motives (or lack of motives) of the people who live there that I personally am not willing to simply accept — the notion that huge numbers of people are on “welfare” simply because they don’t want to work or better themselves. I think much better or my fellow West Virginians than you do, perhaps.

    Regarding the options for West Virginia and the coalfields in other states, we’ve written about these things on this blog before, but I’ll point to a couple examples —

    — The “Future Fund” recommended by the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, http://www.wvfuturefund.org/the-future-fund/

    — More sweeping improvements in our educational efforts, of the sort recommended by Mike Hendryx at WVU, http://appvoices.org/images/uploads/2010/08/hendryx-essay-final.pdf

    The website Appalachian Transition includes lots of ideas and discussions of economic alternatives, http://www.appalachiantransition.org/ and so does this special issue of “Solutions” magazine, http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/663

    The sorts of ideas being discussed here — improving our educational system, bettering our infrastructure, and diversifying our economy — are good ideas regardless of what direction coal takes in coming years. But every indication is that coal is declining, and that decline has little to do with President Obama.


  21. Billie Epperheart says:

    Perhaps you should go to Logan and visit Walmart on the first of the month Mr. Ward! Emphasis on the exclamation point!!!!!!

  22. Beth T says:

    Humorous post by PJD. First of all, I understand that coal is extracted in 54 of West Virginia’s 55 counties. That would lead me to believe that you find only one prosperous county in this state.

    Next, coal is being produced throughout the international community. Stopping it in WV and/or the US does not stop it from happening elsewhere.

    Lastly, I agree that our economy must be diversified. However, when the current “representation” in West Virginia is balancing budgets and paying public pensions based upon projected lottery income, you get what you deserve by voting in the people who ‘represent’ us.

    Thank you Billie for your information. Mr. Ward, as always I find your ‘truth’ to be quite biased. How come the reclaimed mountaintop photos are never shown by your anti-coal movement? What ECONOMICAL ‘green’ sources do you believe will take place of the fossil fuels you seem to hate?

  23. William says:

    I know people have been on welfare their whole lives won’t get a job cause then can sit home and have as much as I do and now they are even giving them cell phones it’s a shame mr ward you really are out of touch if think think people wants to work and not draw welfare and plus have more kids means bigger check

  24. Mr. Nelson says:

    Mr. Ward,

    You obviously do not understand the American principles of the free market and you are purposely ignoring the fact that the government in participating in crony capitalism and market manipulation by falsely driving the cost of coal up by absurd regulations and leaving regulations to a bare minimum on natural gas to force the price of coal higher to drive it out of our energy mix. Then the price of gas will skyrocket. You abuse your position as a writer by projecting your own personal opinions on everyone. Your articles are not news, it is opinion!

  25. PJD says:

    I think a broader point needs to be made. Besides the “war on coal”, the broader assertion that the US has entered some kind of era of unprecedented and onerous government regulation is completely without merit. Exactly the opposite is happening. The past three decades – under both Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses have been an era of unprecedented de-regulation and social service cuts. This has been most dramatic in finance, banking and political campaign funding, but also environmental, workplace and food and drug safety regulations to some extent – particularly through funding cuts, and resulting slack enforcement and interpretation of the rules.

    I think some of those commenting here today really need to take what they hear in political ads and commentary with a bit more skepticism.

  26. Shaun Adkins says:


    You stand on your soapbox (keyboard) spewing forth anti coal rhetoric on a regular basis and now you expect us to take you serious when you make a farcical claim such as there is no war on coal?
    I would equate that with Ahmadinejahd claiming the holocaust never happened.

    You yourself are a big part of this war. Unfortunately, you are on the wrong side. One needs to read but a few of your writings to see that you clearly loathe the coal industry and sympathize with the radical environuts. You sir, are simply a mouth piece for an anti-American sentiment that has been creeping into our society gradually for decades now. Your propaganda and outright misrepresentations make those of us who utilize common sense to guide our lives, realize that there is an enemy out there. Not a mythical enemy of ficticious legend or lore, but an enemy that can been seen, heard, touched. Never more obvious than when sifting through the web of deceit known as “coal tattoo”.

    The strange thing about war is that most all wars in history were first fought with words on the battlefield of ideas long before there were actual opposing factions that engaged in the ugly, physical part of war. We can only pray that those waging this war of words and ideas, attempting to influence the minds of the masses, will realize before it’s too late what is truly at stake here and where this road will inevitably lead.

    No need to “thank” me for commenting as you did the ladies. Being the man I am, I would find it rather snarky and condescending. As a Marine, I don’t tolerate snarkiness very well.

    Semper Fi!

    Shaun Adkins

  27. Soyedina says:

    I”m having a little trouble following this line of reasoning… some people are on welfare therefore there is a war on coal?

  28. coalguy says:

    Let me say a couple of things.
    Yes…there is a war on coal. Sierra Club and their radical environmentalists have been waging a beyond coal campain for a long time. No one in the court system has the guts to tell them to go away so they just keep filing law suits and permit challenges. Then, under our current administratiuon, the EPA is adding illogically thought out regulations in rapid succession (and I don’t care if you believe the medical costs quoted as a fact by the EPA or not, the logical way to impose regulations of the scope currently sought by the EPA would be to give the utilities time to design, capitalize and construct the controls required to meet the new guidelines). And then, when a utility comes in with a compliance plan to meet the new guidelines, they face a stream of challenges, lawsuits and customer revolts to build and get compensated for the controls. So, there is a war on coal. Lisa Jackson is one of the biggest offenders (as you may be able to tell by the number of times the courts have rejected her attempts at new regulations).
    In the end, we all want clean air and good paying jobs. Say what you want about the counties with coal mines, no employed coal miner is below the poverty line. As a matter of fact, they are above average income earners in the states of WV and KY.
    And then we have people that don’t know any better claiming things like Big Sandy plant would burn Wyoming coal if they get scrubbed. PRB coal into Big Sandy plant would not work. The plant design and transportation logistics favors coal from KY and WV over coal from IL or WY.
    So, that is why you see notes from so many passionate coal people. They feel that they are at war against our current administartion and the environmental movement in this country. I hope that all changes in November and I hope Lisa Jackson joins the un-employment line. Although, I don’t think she would be out of work for long. I hear that the Sierra Club needs more radical environmentalists.

  29. Vernon says:

    I’m continually baffled by the assertions that “environmentalists” are out to draw welfare, while being backed by “big money.” I’d say the “big money” comes from coal companies and their Wall Street stockholders, who can afford ads during presidential debates, etc. Even if all the assertions about welfare and big money were true, that would not make it right to subject the local citizens to the hazards of mountaintop removal or to subject the miners to the hazards of poorly enforced/poorly complied with safety regulations.

  30. charlie p says:

    Hearing people accuse Mr. Ward of being “a mouth piece for anti-American sentiment” and a “sympathize(r) with radical environuts” is just ridiculous!! The amount of ignorance being spouted out by coal guy, Shaun Adkins, Mr. Nelson, William, Beth T, and Billie Epperheart is just stunning! I guess some people will believe anything the coal industry and the politicians on their payroll tell them. One of the reasons natural gas has become cheap is from new refined drilling techniques and this would be happening with any president! Sounds like technology is the real culprit in the “war on coal”!

  31. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I just want to remind everyone of Coal Tattoo’s comments policy, http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/comment-policy/ … In particular:

    — Be respectful of others, especially those your disagree with — this includes other readers and commenters , public officials, and even coal industry executives.
    — No name calling.

    I let a few people get away with name-calling and disrespectful comments, because it appeared folks needed to get it out of their system. But from here on on this thread, any comments that violate the policy won’t be published.


  32. Mike says:

    Ken –
    you keep refering to the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, but they are not objective either. They come with a big government motive. You fault Billie for “Coal Industry stats” but the Center for Budget and Policy is constantly pushing for more taxes, more medicaid, increased Minimum Wage, etc. All of these are against free market principles. I wish you would portray both sides of the issue and not try to sell yours as fact when your sources are also clearly biased.

  33. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Thanks for your comment.

    So just to follow up, I’m wondering — do you advocate doing away with Medicaid and the minimum wage? How about Social Security and Medicare?

    I mean, those aren’t the subjects of this blog, but I’m just curious about what you’re getting at here.

    In addition, perhaps you would suggest 3 completely “objective” sources who could comment on what is driving the decline in the coal industry.


  34. Soyedina says:

    I personally would appreciate if Shaun Adkins might provide a few actual examples of how this

    You stand on your soapbox (keyboard) spewing forth anti coal rhetoric on a regular basis

    could, in any possible universe, describe this blog.

    I read this blog frequently but that doesn’t describe anything I’ve seen here. Maybe I missed something?

    It might be helpful to consider, Mr. Adkins, that many people have said similar things about this blog from both opposing and orthogonal perspectives. He gets blamed for not being anti-coal, he gets blamed for being anti-coal. Some specific examples might make your case more believable.

  35. Mike says:

    My point is why is it that the Daily Mail can call it like it is – “Ted Boettner, executive director of the liberal West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy” (http://www.charlestondailymail.com/News/statenews/201210150234) but you just pass it off as objective data.
    As for the other points, which are not key to this argument but were brought up to address the Center, I think we need to address the excessive costs in medicine and not just increase Medicaid. The ACA did nothing to address cost and I feel that by fixing the costs would better increase access. I never suggested doing away with Medicaid, but we cannot continue to borrow our way out of debt.
    As for minimun wage, I do not push for an increase in minimum wage as the Center wants. If people are not willing to work for the wage that is offered then the companies will have to look at their wage structure to retain employees. You see many minimum wage jobs being offered now because the 2 yr unemployment benefit, pays just a little less than a FT min wage job but the recipient has a lot more free time and thinks that they can live off of it. Instead get back to work. Take a min wage job and look to move up to other jobs. Sitting back and getting an UE check is not the way to move up and stay motivated. That is not to say that people that get laid off should not collect on the insurance that they have paid into with their paycheck deductions, but keeping it available for 2 years destroys people’s motivation to work. It also makes it more difficult for the burger shack that people want to buy the cheap burger at, to be able to staff their operations. Increase the min wage for McD’s and the dollar menu becomes $2 so the buying power of that increase just went away. Markets drive prices.
    Back to my point, if you want to report the news present the news. I can determine my own opinion, but when newspapers feel it is in their best interest to print opinions on their front page then the newspaper itself loses credibility. It is no coincidence that the more slanted that the news coverage has become, readership (and viewership for TV) has declined.

  36. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Can you point me to an example of the Gazette printing what you consider to be opinions on its front page? (other than the endorsement box that they’ll start publishing just before the election — something that I have absolutely nothing to do with).

    Regarding the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, I cited them initially above to point readers to their blog post regarding what would happen to regional coal production here absent EPA rules on mercury/air toxics and greenhouse gas emissions (http://blog.wvpolicy.org/2012/07/10/ending-regulations-wont-save-central-appalachian-coal.aspx ).

    While their policy recommendations — and some of their analysis — may fit into what some would conveniently call a “liberal” box, I primarily point to them because of the DATA that they posted. That data was taken directly from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. You can read their blog post and see the links they include to the source of that data (http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/ and http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/table_e1.cfm ). The data shows what the data shows — what’s interesting and important from it is not a “liberal” spin from the center, but the data from a government agency.

    Is it my “opinion” that facts and data should inform policy and political discussions like this? Oddly, yes.


  37. Mike says:

    The facts are the coal burning plants are closing. They are not closing because the plants don’t work. They are closing because of the costs that they face to comply. No one wants dirty air and dirty water, but how about we stop reinventing items for the EPA to go after. They want to regulate Mercury to a level that cannot be measured. The technology does not exist to measure it but the EPA BELIEVES that is a good level to go to??? These agencies have grown so big and once they have accomplshed their good, they don’t say, okay lets reduce staff and just monitor things. Instead they have to keep creating more rules and more regulations.
    We can continue to close all of the power plants. We can put all of the miners out of work. No one will be able to afford the little power that is left, so we will reduce our quality of life. I would much prefer a country that uses ALL of its technologies and natural resources. Fossil fuels AND newer technology. We are a power hungry people.

  38. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Can you provide links to reports by any independent organizations that support what you’re saying here?

    I mean, here’s more out just in the last two days that supports the conclusion that low natural gas prices have far more to do with what’s happening than EPA regulations.

    First, The Washington Post’s WonkBlog writes:

    “Two things about coal are true right now. First, the U.S. coal industry really is in decline — the nation is burning far less coal to generate electricity than it did five years ago. Second, the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama really has enacted a bunch of new rules that will require coal-fired power plants to curb their pollution. Those rules will all cost money.
    “But it’s not true that the Obama administration is wholly responsible for coal’s current decline. That’s the argument that Mitt Romney and other Republicans have made lately, accusing Obama of waging a “war on coal.” The charge isn’t entirely correct. The U.S. coal industry would be struggling even without Obama’s pollution rules. Coal’s biggest problem at the moment is the recent influx of cheap natural gas in the United States. And that’s a situation that even Mitt Romney would have a hard time reversing.”


    And a report from the economics/environmental think tank Resources for the Future explains
    What is driving the shift from coal to natural gas? The most important factor is the development of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology that can extract natural gas from shale deposits. The expanded use of this technology has dramatically increased supplies of natural gas and reduced its price, both absolutely and relative to the price of coal. A lot of gas-fired generating capacity was built up in the 1990s in response to the advent of greater competition in electricity markets that previously operated at less than full capacity, and this excess gas generation capacity is now being ramped up while coal plants are running less.

    Looking forward into the future, RFF researchers find in a recent paper that reductions in expected future natural gas prices result in a ten percent reduction in electricity generation from coal through 2020. Moreover, this market-driven decline in coal is 5 or 6 times greater than the drop in coal use that is likely to be attributable to new EPA air regulations such as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, also known as MATS (note that the Brattle study includes these regulations in its estimate).


    Importantly, by the way, Resources for the Future reports:

    “Coal’s loss may be electricity consumers’ gain. While regions of the country, such as the Ohio Valley and parts of the Southeast, that rely to a large extent on coal have typically been those regions with lower than average electricity prices, abundant natural gas is lowering electricity prices in other parts of the country and on average nationwide. In a recent issue brief, RFF researchers find that under recent predictions of natural gas prices in 2020, (35 percent lower than similar predictions in 2009), national average electricity price in 2020 is expected to be roughly 5.7 percent lower than prior forecasts predicted. In those parts of the country where electricity markets have been deregulated, which also tend to be regions that have historically been less dependent on coal, the effect is even more dramatic, with electricity prices predicted to be 9.6 percent lower than forecasts based on supply assumptions from prior to the recent gas boom.”


  39. coalguy says:

    First of all…to Charlie P., I don’t appreciate someone I don’t know calling me ignorant. I probably know as much or more about the coal/electric utility industry as anyone who reads this website. I don’t know you from Adam so I wouldn’t think of telling you anything like that (no matter what I might think).
    Second…to Ken, I certainly am not trying to say that the current low use of coal is related to anything but economics. Gas is a cheaper form of energy this year and should be used to generate all the electricity it can generate. The energy industry (and coal industry) is very cyclical and always has been. In this case, the high gas production combined with the unusually warm winter have led to unusually high natural gas storage levels and extremely low natural gas prices. It has been years since we saw gas prices below $2.00/MMBtu. However, gas prices are starting to inch back up and assuming we have a normal winter, I believe coal will restore some of the lost generation from 2012 (gas prices are already in the $3.50 range bringing a lot of coal plants back in the money).
    However, I am also saying that the impending closure of a number of coal fired power plants is entirely related to the regulations coming from the EPA. No utility would close a coal plant simply because it gets beat by low gas prices in the short term. Utilities may speed up the closure of some coal plants because they don’t want to spend capital keeping it ready to operate only to have to shut it down when the impending regulations kick in. But, it is not low gas prices forcing the shut down. It is the new regulations and the capital expense required to install the controls that are forcing the shut down.
    Do you buy that argument, Ken?

  40. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Here’s what the U.S. Government Accountability Office said about all of this —

    It is uncertain how power companies may respond to four key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, but available information suggests companies may retrofit most coal-fueled generating units with controls to reduce pollution, and that 2 to 12 percent of coal-fueled capacity may be retired. Some regions may see more significant levels of retirements. For example, one study examined 11 states in the Midwest and projected that 18 percent of coal-fueled capacity in that region could retire. EPA and some stakeholders GAO interviewed stated that some such retirements could occur as a result of other factors such as lower natural gas prices, regardless of the regulations. Power companies may also build new generating units, upgrade transmission systems to maintain reliability, and increasingly use natural gas to produce electricity as coal units retire and remaining coal units become somewhat more expensive to operate.


  41. charlie p says:

    I’m sorry coal guy! I should have put 2 and 2 together and figured out that you “probably know as much or more about coal/electric utility industry as anyone who reads this website,” since your name is coal guy! I mean your name wouldn’t be coal guy if you didn’t know the most about the subject of coal! People in this country throw around the word WAR way to much!

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