The U.S. coal industry is reeling again as the nation’s largest coal-mining company filed for bankruptcy in recent days, and a congressman representing coal country says Obama administration regulations are the main killer of jobs that could lead to the loss of entire communities.
On April 13, St. Louis-based Peabody Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, joining at least four other major coal-mining companies headed down that same path. The news has many Obama administration critics remembering his 2008 campaign promise to bankrupt the coal industry for emitting greenhouse gases.
“The industry is under severe stress. They’re upside-down in terms of their ability to meet their debt obligations,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, who represents the eastern part of his state, which is a key part of coal country in the U.S. He is also a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
There’s no doubt in Johnson’s mind where the bulk of the blame belongs for the problems of the coal industry.
“That is largely the result of downward pressure from the Obama administration in regulations, going after both the consumption of coal that’s used to produce electricity an the production of coal through regulations from agencies like the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and [the Interior Department’s] Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation,” Johnson said.
For over five years, Johnson said he and other lawmakers have had a tough time getting Obama to understand how important the coal industry is to the nation.
Does Johnson think Obama and his allies want to understand?
“No, I don’t think they do,” he said. “I don’t think that’s in their DNA.”
Johnson said workers in the coal industry have been devastated, but so have entire communities. He said every coal mining job in communities based on the industry creates anywhere from five to nine other jobs elsewhere in those towns.
He said closing up shop can literally make a community extinct and leave people ruined.
“Those communities were built around those coal mines,” Johnson said. “It’s not like they can just pick up and move somewhere else. Who’s going to come in and buy their homes if they’re rolling up the sidewalks in those communities because there are no jobs and no industries there?”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio:
He said the job killing is not over since Obama is still pushing to implement the stream protection rule and other regulations that could claim thousands more jobs.
Some energy industry analysts and government officials say the advancement of fracking and the low price of natural gas is also a major punch in the gut to the coal industry. Johnson said it is a challenge but he sees it as far less damaging than government intrusion.
“I’m all about letting our free-enterprise market drive solutions to our energy needs, rather than having Washington pick the winners and the losers,” Johnson said.
The congressman doesn’t believe the nation must choose between coal and natural gas, given the needs of of the U.S. economy.
“We’re going to continue to need low-cost, affordable energy,” he said. “There is plenty of room in the mix for coal and oil and gas.”
Another infuriating aspect for Johnson is that Obama seems ready to wipe out the coal industry without admitting that his preferred successors – wind, solar and biofuels – are incapable of filling the void.
“The technology has not gotten to the point yet where you can store up the sun’s energy and then dribble it out to provide the base load,” he said. “Nor can you do that with wind energy. You get energy from the sun and the wind when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Once either of those stops, then the energy source stops.”
Johnson also urges Obama to look at new developments in Europe. Several nations made major efforts to ditch traditional energy sources in favor of renewable options in recent years. On a visit last year, officials in many European nations told him they were going back to coal for a very simple reason.
“I asked them how they could justify that and they said, ‘Congressman, we’ve just reached the point in Europe where our rate payers, businesses and residential customers, are no longer willing to pay exorbitant high prices for alternative energy forms,” Johnson said.
He hopes Obama will learn from Europe’s painful lesson so the U.S. doesn’t have to repeat it: “Why do we want to have to do that here in America when we’ve already got a robust coal industry that’s been providing our energy for generations and we have enough resources to do it for generations more?”