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for people who care about the West

Why coal has declined


In “Overdosed” in the Feb. 20 issue, the author writes, “Federal regulations and the low cost of natural gas have combined to create the worst economic climate for coal in decades.” While this sentence is true, it is also misleading. The real economic issue for Craig is not just the decline in coal demand, but massive changes in the industry that have resulted in hardship for the miners of Craig and the rest of the community that relied on those paychecks. Far ahead of regulations are the shifts in practices that allow Wyoming miners to produce five times the coal per year of a Colorado miner.

Likewise, mountaintop removal provides a huge productivity margin over other methods. And of course, we can’t overlook the shift away from union operations, which also depresses wages. Even in the narrowest interpretation of the statement, low-cost natural gas has had far more impact than any federal regulations. This will become quite apparent when the Trump administration rolls back regulations (at the expense of the environment) and coal jobs still don’t come back, because natural gas will remain a preferable fuel.

It is this sort of misleading attack on regulation that allows Trump and his ilk to attract the support of the economically displaced with lies and false promises of a return to the past.

David Strip
Llaves, New Mexico