Originally posted at The Great Energy Challenge blog
Anytime coal’s cost to America is discussed, the coal industry reflexively talks about what an economic lifeline it is for the states in which it operates. Headwaters Economics, a Bozeman-based think tank focusing on natural resource issues, has a solid new study that’s getting national attention for undercutting those claims. For instance, the Headwaters study finds that “[f]ossil fuel production has not insulated energy-producing states from fiscal crisis,” that “[f]ossil fuel extraction has a limited influence at the state level on economic indicators such as GDP by state, personal income, and employment,” and that “[t]he volatility of fossil fuel markets poses obstacles to the stability and long-term security of economic growth in energy-producing regions.”
This is a problem for the coal industry, which spends heavily to construct a fantasy world in which it’s a “clean” industry to which we should feel grateful, a vital supplier of our power, and an economic lifeline to host communities.
But in the real world, coal’s case is even weaker than the Headwaters study shows. The work of Professor Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University goes even further. His work has looked at the costs of coal mining to the Appalachian communities that host it.
In light of the House of Representatives’ aggressive efforts to eliminate already-loose controls over the coal industry’s egregious practices – blowing the tops off mountains and violating the Clean Water Act – we interviewed Hendryx and found his views especially timely and powerful. The highlights:
Michael Hendryx is a national expert on coal’s real-world impacts. Unlike the front group operatives that the coal industry underwrites to move its claims in the court of public opinion, it’s reasonable to assume that Professor Hendryx doesn’t make any more money if his research finds that coal’s arguments bear out in the real world – or not. That means his conclusions are worth repeating: that coal’s “clean” claims are absurd; that coal spokespeople claiming its an abundant fuel supply are “simply lying;” and that the technology is an economic “loser.”
Coal-funded front group people give two variations on a standard line: 1) that government shouldn’t “favor one energy sector over another;” and 2) that government “shouldn’t pick winners and losers.” All of that sounds nice. However, given how much welfare politicians have been showering on the coal industry for nearly a century, it’s clear that government has been favoring some forms of energy for a long time now. And it’s increasingly clear that government has been favoring a loser.
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