There has been a bevy of political advertisements, which I imagine; we will be seeing ad nausea, until the November elections. The ads scream either there is a War on Coal, or there might be a War on Coal but I’m not part of it and if there is I will stop it. No matter who wins the election, neither side is dealing honestly with the realities of the situation the coal industry in Kentucky is in these days.
Jobs in the Kentucky mining industry have been declining over the last 3 decades from some 160,000 in 1979 to roughly 17,000 today. The vast majority of these losses are the result of mechanization, automation and the change from deep mining to surface and hilltop removal. The industry has been shrinking for some time now.
The claim that the new Environmental Protection Agency regulations regarding carbon emissions is proof of the Administrations ‘War on Coal’, is somewhat misleading. The New regulations do not require the closure of any coal fired plants. They simply call for a reduction in the amount of carbon emissions by the State. How the States reach that reduction is up to them.
Then what is the cause of the closure and refitting of so many coal fired plants across the nation? Put simply enough, it’s the Free Market. The growth of fracking operations across the country has driven the cost of running and cleaning a coal fired plant above that of refitting old coal fired plants to gas operations or building new gas fired plants. If anyone is engaged in a ‘War on Coal’ it’s the oil and gas industries doing the most damage!
Finger pointing and name calling over the sad decline of what is becoming an outdated industry gets us nowhere. Our legislators should be looking for new industries to replace the jobs lost to the decline of the coal industry. A good example is the cannabis industry. Colorado’s cannabis industry, industrial, medical and recreational is booming and an estimated 11,000 jobs have been created in the industry as of April of 2014. Currently the national legal cannabis market is worth 1.5 billion dollars and is expected to grow to 10 billion in the next 5 years. Colorado has collected 6 million in revenue on legal sales in Jan and Feb of 2014 alone and estimates 98 million in revenue for the next fiscal year. The predicted bad outcomes of legalization have failed to materialize. The climate and soil in Kentucky is ideal for the cultivation of cannabis, and Kentucky cannabis products should be on the shelves of shops and pharmacies all across the nation.
Instead of giving Kentuckians the unkeepable promise of stopping the natural market driven decline of the coal industry, McConnell and Grimes should be telling us about the legislation they will support in Congress to free up the cannabis industry so Kentucky can get its share of this billion dollar industry. If not the cannabis industry then what industry do they propose to replace the coal jobs with and what programs do they propose that can alleviate the stress on our communities due to the decline of coal? Without the answers to these questions the back and forth of McConnell and Grimes over the ‘War on Coal’ is nothing more than political hot and dirty air.