Regulatory chickens now roosting in coal country

By Jim Waters - Bluegrass Beacon

“Did you ever wonder why people order diet sodas with cheeseburgers and large fries? Or, why we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in our driveways and useless junk in our garages? Or, why Noah didn’t just swat those two mosquitoes?” one of those useless chain emails queried from my inbox.

Not really.

But I have wondered why union bosses representing coal miners would enthusiastically endorse presidential candidates who overtly promise to “bankrupt” their industries and then feign shock and anger when the chickens carrying the consequences of such an approach arrive home to roost.

Such anger was on full display when more than 3,000 current and former coal miners led by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) rallied recently at the Lexington Convention Center to demand that Congress bail out their pension and health-insurance plans.

But it wasn’t Congress, unpopular though it is, that turned loose the full regulatory powers of the Environmental Protection Agency – which has implemented $10 billion in new fossil-fuel regulations and has planned an additional $10 billion worth of new rules.

It wasn’t Congress which designed unattainable air-and-water standards behind a façade of addressing climate change.

It wasn’t Congress that passed laws forcing mining companies into bankruptcy court, where fights over dwindling resources and declining pension and health-insurance benefit funds are predictably occurring.

These are the results of a president whose administration’s primary legacy will be that of unconstitutionally bypassing the representative branch of government in order to implement suffocating regulations on the path to achieving its extremist environmental agenda.

It’s the same politician who UMWA president Cecil Roberts gushed over as a candidate, claiming in May 2008 that then-Sen. Barack Obama “shares the values of UMWA members and our families” and “will implement the clear change in direction UMWA members – and indeed all American working people – must have if they are once again to move forward and have a true opportunity to realize the American dream.”

Regulations causing the bankruptcy of coal companies, loss of mining jobs and billions in wages are the stuff nightmares – not dreams – are made of.

Was it really the UMWA’s dream for Kentucky, the third-largest coal producing state, to no longer have a single union mine in production, which became the reality when Patriot Coal’s Highland Mine in Western Kentucky shut down on December 31, 2014, resulting in the last few remaining labor-union miners being laid off?

Is that a dream? Are those Kentucky’s values?

EPA regulations certainly aren’t the only pressures facing our coal industry.

Still, what sector of America’s economy can withstand such a regulatory assault, considering a recent American Action Forum report showing that industries shed, on average, 8,100 jobs for every $1 billion in regulatory costs?

Other factors alone, like artificially low natural gas prices, cannot account for the loss nationwide of 180,000 mining jobs and $9.7 billion in wages in the coal industry just since Obama took office.

A slowdown in China’s demand for coal doesn’t begin to explain why at least 6,000 Kentucky coal miners have lost their livelihoods since 2008 or why another 18,000 positions indirectly tied to those jobs also were wiped out.

Reasonable regulatory policies would allow the coal industry to do what every other private-sector operation does: figure out how to adapt and compete in an ever-changing marketplace.

If it can’t, then allow it to fail as should have happened with every large financial institution and automotive company bailed out by Washington.

But coal companies should not be forced by crushing short tons of regulation to compete with one shovel behind their bent-over backs, hampering their ability to keep mines open and promises to retirees.

By Jim Waters

Bluegrass Beacon

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

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