Coal future a concern to all

Very few Americans really care much what happens to a coal miner’s family in West Virginia or Ohio. Hey, the government will take care of them if they lose their jobs, right?

But what about household electric bills skyrocketing in Minnesota and Michigan? What happens when a New Jersey or South Carolina plant closes after its employees are informed management can’t pay the power bill?

For the past few years, critics of President Barack Obama’s war on coal have been preaching to the choir. That is, they’ve been whipping up support for the coal industry where it lives, in places like West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Wyoming.

Last month, Obama announced a new campaign against coal, as if his previous effort has not been devastating enough. If the president had his way, every single coal-fired power plant in the country would be shut down.

But tens of millions of Americans, unaware of what the president’s plan means to them, should be worrying about paying hundreds or thousands of dollars a year more for electricity. Millions should be wondering how their industries, relying as they do on relatively inexpensive power, will keep the doors open.

Most Americans probably have no idea how much they rely on coal miners to generate their electricity. Yet in 20 states, coal-fired power plants supply more than 50 percent of the juice. Nationally, about 42 percent of what it takes to switch on the lights comes from coal.

Look at it this way: Coal-fired power plants – nearly 600 of them throughout the country – generate about 1.6 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity every year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average household uses 11,280 kilowatt hours annually.

Do the math. Or I can do it for you: Coal provides enough electricity to power around 140 million households in the U.S. every year.

Aha, you say. There’s a flaw in Myer’s argument. There aren’t that many households in the United States.

Precisely. Much of that electricity goes to industries such as aluminum smelters. If their power bills go up, they go out of business. Ask the folks at Ormet.

And if companies increase the price of their products to pay the electric bill, they suddenly become uncompetitive in the national and international markets. So they are forced to close – and lay off workers.

How many Americans would lose their jobs if Obama’s plan goes through? No one can say with certainty. I haven’t seen any estimates. Now might be a good time for some university economist to produce one.

One interesting report on Obama’s old war on coal was released a few months ago. Under current regulations – not the vastly harsher ones the president envisions – 204 coal-fired electric generating units in 25 states will be shut down. Here’s a list of those states, in descending order of how much electric generating capacity they will lose:

Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Texas, South Carolina, Colorado, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, New Mexico, Illinois, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Massachusetts (yes, believe it or not, the Bay State has some coal-fired power), New Jersey, Wisconsin, Utah, Michigan, Maryland, Wyoming and South Dakota.

Some states get virtually none of their electricity from coal-fired generating stations, of course. And some of them, such as California, have enormous political clout. Their residents’ electric bills already are three to four times what utilities with coal-fired capacity charge.

Now you know part of Obama’s reasoning. If he gets away with his plan, the economies of states such as California will benefit. That is because industries in the coal-reliant states become less competitive.

Make no mistake about it: Obama’s plan will hurt tens of millions of Americans – probably most of us – and the vast majority of the victims don’t even know they have a problem.

Their members of Congress do, however. So why aren’t they doing anything to stop the White House?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at