Irrational Arguments About the Coal Industry

The Wall Street Journal recently published a remarkable editorial titled “The Carnage in Coal Country,” which accused President Obama of destroying jobs by implementing terrible, horrible, no-good regulations on coal: “According to the National Mining Association, 40,000 coal jobs have been lost in the U.S. since 2008,” the editorial said.

That’s a bigger number than the figure from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but never mind. You might want to put that number in perspective by remembering that the American economy has added 14 million private sector jobs since 2010. You might also want to note that coal has been declining for a long time.

But what really struck me about the editorial were two things. First, The Journal sneers that we’re “still waiting for all those new green jobs Mr. Obama has been promising since he arrived in Washington.” Well, look at the chart.

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Yes, the solar numbers are from the Solar Foundation, a private group, but The Journal’s figure on mining jobs also comes from a private group. And while you might want to quibble over specific data points, the boom in renewable energy in the United States is very real, as is the surging number of jobs in occupations like solar panel installation. I can’t imagine any calculation under which the number of green jobs added doesn’t exceed the loss of jobs in coal mining – an industry that was already a shadow of its former self before Mr. Obama took office.

The other striking thing about the editorial is that it takes as a given the notion that any regulation is bad, including regulations on mercury and coal ash (which itself is also loaded with mercury and other heavy metals like lead). Let’s see: Mercury is a neurotoxin, which can impact intellectual ability, and other heavy metals can cause cancer and poison people in a variety of ways. In what moral or even economic universe is it obviously wrong to limit emissions of neurotoxins?

I know that this article wasn’t intended as any kind of rational argument – that it was just an Anti-Obama Two Minutes of Hate piece. But this sort of thing is still amazing to see in a paper that sometimes pretends to be a cut above the conservative commentator Erick Erickson.