Assuming that the Lord allows us to make the trip — the weather is iffy — my darling bride (of 34 years, 6 months and 8 days) and I will be leaving for the Bluegrass State early Thanksgiving morning, to spend the holidays at my sister’s house. And that makes this story from The Wall Street Journal even more important to me:
Coal’s Decline Hits Hardest in the Mines of Kentucky
Mine Closures and Layoffs Are Reshaping Region’s Coalfields
By Kris Maher and Tom McGinty | Nov. 26, 2013 11:00 p.m. ET
HARLAN, Ky.—Since he was laid off from his mining job in January, William Hensley’s life has been upended.Days after he lost his position, Mr. Hensley, 50 years old, said he was diagnosed with black lung disease. The bank soon took back his 2012 Chevy Suburban, after he was unable to make the $600 monthly payments. He can no longer afford health insurance and has drawn down all but $5,000 he had in a 401(k) retirement plan to pay for another vehicle and living expenses.
Mr. Hensley, who is raising his 12-year-old granddaughter with his wife, went from making $82,000 a year as an underground foreman to collecting about $15,000 in unemployment benefits this year. But that aid is set to run out in December and mining jobs are scarce.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Mr. Hensley, who has spent 32 years of his life mining coal.
More at the link.
I should note from the outset that while my sisters and I grew up in Kentucky, and my wife did as well, no one in my family has worked in the coal industry. The layoffs in the coal industry do not effect my family directly, but they do make Kentuckians as a whole poorer.
The coal mining industry is suffering right now because of the new hydraulic fracturing technologies, enabling petroleum and natural gas producers to extract more product then previously, and natural gas burns more cleanly than does coal.
That has meant an increase in natural gas consumption for electricity generation, but coal, while not on an increasing path, isn’t significantly decreasing as a fuel for electricity generation, and is still the primary fuel for that purpose; In 2011, 42% of the country’s nearly 4 trillion kilowatthours of electricity used coal as its source of energy. Current estimates are that coal will continue to be the primary fuel for electricity generation in 2040.
Unless, of course, the Chicken Littles of the climate change crowd get their way. President Obama famously said that, under his plans, “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” He was talking about a cap-and-trade system, and was including other fuels such as natural gas in that statement, but coal-generated electricity would obviously bear the greatest costs.
That is the economic cost to people who would have to buy electricity under such a system, but the JOURNAL article notes another costs, the costs of people losing their jobs in the coal industry. Coal production is already decreasing somewhat, hitting the coal counties of Kentucky hard . . . and the coal counties were already some of the poorer counties in the Bluegrass State.
This is the problem with the environmentalists: they cannot see what the effects of their policies, if put into action, would do to real people. The United States has the world’s largest recoverable coal reserves, and it would be foolish for the US to embark on policies which left such a valuable resource in the ground. Such would not only make everybody somewhat poorer, as they would have to pay more for electricity, but would make some people a whole lot poorer, as their jobs were destroyed.