Whose war on coal?

December 1, 2012

During my Thanksgiving in Western Pa., I was surprised to see a number of remaining political yard signs and billboards urging passersby to stop President Obama’s “war on coal.”

These “coal warriors” argue Obama is destroying the industry with initiatives designed to provide cleaner energy. Coal is hardly clean. But, no reasonable person believes current solar technology is a viable alternative for heating homes and lighting Christmas trees during winter’s bleakest days. Nor can a reasonable person argue Obama alone possesses the power to destroy an industry.

Coal’s biggest threat is not the White House. Instead, its death knell is planted in the very ground where it has been mined for generations. Drilling in Utica and Marcellus shale formations, supported by Pennsylvania’s leaders, is the real threat coal advocates fail to acknowledge. The glut of natural gas on the market has caused prices to plummet. In turn, energy companies are looking to natural gas as a viable alternative to coal.

In 2003, Gov. Romney stood in front of a coal plant in Salem Harbor, Mass., urging its closure because, in his words, “that plant kills people.” In 2014, Romney’s dream will come true with that plant’s conversion from coal to gas. In January 2011, Penn State University made a similar choice. Today, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing nine permits for gas-burning power plants. If shale gas supplies are the cornucopia state leaders claim, change will come to Mitchell Station, Elrama, Hatfields Ferry and Homer City, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

“Coal warriors” are right; mining is threatened. No doubt, some of those with yard signs are partisan hacks jumping on the bandwagon. But others must be decent people who oversimplify the situation by failing to acknowledge limits of presidential power and ignoring economic reality. Coal is being replaced by new technology, some of which is lining the pockets of your neighbors and state leaders. There may be a war, but Obama is not the enemy.

Samuel J. Richards

Hagerstown, Md.


Submit a letter to the editor