International exports shoring up coal industry

Prior to the election last November, President Barack Obama’s supporters insisted those – like this newspaper – critical of his war on coal didn’t know what we were talking about. The U.S. coal industry was as healthy as it had been for years, they insisted.

Well, no. That just isn’t true. Even if it had been accurate, it missed much of the point about Obama’s campaign, which is against reasonably priced electricity as much as coal production.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, in a good news announcement last week, put his finger on the factor that has allowed Obama and his backers to insist there really is no war on coal.

Exports of Mountain State coal to other countries increased by 40 percent last year, in comparison to 2011, Tomblin revealed. West Virginia mines sold about $7.4 billion worth of coal overseas, an increase of $2.1 billion from the previous year, he explained.

That indeed is good news, but it masks deep trouble in U.S. coal markets, as Tomblin is well aware.

Total production of coal in West Virginia has followed a national pattern in which the output from mines last year was 7.4 percent lower than in 2011.

Virtually all of the decrease is because electric utilities are cutting back on use of coal, in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s all-out war on use of the fuel to produce power. Use of coal by electric utilities was down nearly 12.5 percent last year, in comparison to 2011.

Without exports, the U.S. coal industry – and West Virginia mines – already would have been devastated by the Obama administration. As it is, thousands of miners already have been laid off, dozens of mines have closed or will do so soon, and scores of coal-fired power plants are being closed.

For now, natural gas at nearly record-low prices has kept consumers from feeling the pinch of the move away from coal-fired electricity. But as demand for gas increases, prices will go up, too – perhaps to double what they are now, within just a few years.

So Obama and his liberal cronies in Congress are hoping consumers will miss the point – that his campaign really is about reasonably priced electricity as much as it involves coal – until it is too late to do anything about what will prove to be a costly switch.

In that light, Tomblin’s announcement of high exports of coal is good news, but it is only a tiny silver lining inside a massive, dark cloud.