Thursday, July 18, 2013

Williams: 'War on coal' hurts Heritage Foundation funders

Today Buz Williams, the regular Courier columnist with no writing or intellectual credentials who chooses to misspell his own nickname, rails against the President for an unreasonable "war" against the coal industry at the expense of the poor and middle classes. He has a point, if you're willing to ignore every good reason to move away from our dirtiest fuel and you're unable to comprehend basic economics.
   First, the idea of moving the country to cleaner energy resources did not originate with the President, nor would he likely have much interest in the political fight over it if not for the solid majority of Americans who recognize that the preferred fuel of the 19th century is hurting us in the 21st. Long before anyone but a few scientists knew anything about climate change, we recognized that coal emissions are the primary source of ill health and broad economic impairment due to air pollution.
   Remember the unbreathable air in LA in the '60s? (I'm sure Buz does.) Remember acid rain eating up concrete all over the Northeast? The automotive component was significant, but that was primarily coal. When Congress in the '70s began addressing those issues, we heard the same "war on coal" arguments and the same predictions of doom, from the same people. The sky didn't fall for the industry then, and much as we might prefer, it won't fall due to the President's current initiative, which I hasten to add is far from even passing its first legislative or bureaucratic hurdles, let alone having real effect.
   Buz's research for the piece is rooted entirely in the Heritage Foundation, an organization funded primarily and generously by the coal and oil industries, which anyone reading this likely already knows. But I'm perfectly willing to posit that yes, as we move away from burning coal for electricity, there will be fewer people employed in the industry, his core emotional point.
   Here's where basic economics come into the picture. As those people leave coal, employment demand is ramping up in cleaner industries. Nowhere is this clearer than in the awful fracking fad, which is drawing people directly from oil drilling to gas drilling. Somehow Buz misses that reducing energy from coal doesn't mean less energy, it means more of other kinds in younger industries that will employ more people than coal has.
   Cleaning up the mess from coal will displace workers, yes, but in aggregate it will put them into better jobs. The only people who will feel pain from this inevitable change are those who continue to bet their extensive riches on dirty fuels, like the funders of Heritage.
   I suppose I don't really need to remark on the childish petulance Buz expresses at the end of the piece, but in a way it opens a window on the emotional basis for the resistance to the kind of change that we must embrace for our economic and even species survival. The thing is, as we do embrace it, we'll find that we'll be happier and more prosperous. But I doubt that Buz and his ilk will ever be able to see it.


Anonymous said...

Steven, I appreciate your contributions. Usually I check in right after I read Buz's latest backward column, to get some balance and reassure myself that there are people in this community with views different than rustic folks like Act for America chapter president Warren Rushton (see PDC letter to the editor 7-17), or the guy I saw Sunday driving a pickup sporting full size Stars and Stripes AND the Condfederate Stars & Bars flags. Just wanted you to know your work is very much appreciated. Keep up the good fight.

Steven Ayres said...