Coal in Decline? Blame Obama, not Reality

Murray Energy’s Blaming Obama for the Decline of Coal is like a Saddle-maker Blaming Theodore Roosevelt for the Decline of Horse Transport

 

By now you’ve probably read the sad tale of Murray Energy and their recent layoffs.   Murray is the country’s largest private coal company, employing over 3,000 people across the country and producing over 30 million tons of coal annually.   Murray set off a media storm today by announcing the layoff of 163 people, evoking the word of god, and blaming Obama and a nefarious “war on coal” for the tragic hard times their industry now faces.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Coal, as you may know, is indeed in decline.  Increasing regulations and general public distaste for dirty energy do have something to do with it.  But the primary reason has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the rise of cheap natural gas – especially via fracking. Murray had hoped a Romney administration would roll back regulations enough to allow the coal industry to keep cruising along for a while without changing much, staying somewhat competitive with gas.  It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen now.   Still, even if the reason were entirely political, sacking employees to prove the point is beyond sour grapes, it’s cruel and borderline crazy.

The writing’s been on the wall for coal’s demise for a very long time.   On the macro level this is a very good thing.  It means cleaner energy, lower healthcare costs, less environmental degradation and ultimately new jobs in new energy sectors.   In the short term, especially in mining country, it means layoffs, uncertainty, and the kicking and screaming of vested interests who don’t want to change.  Murray’s kicking and screaming will do nothing to stop the decline of coal, it only hurts the people the company claims to support.

A responsible energy company that actually cared about their employees and the country at large would have recognized the inevitable years ago and began making changes to adjust to a new reality.  The company would work with government to retool local economies, get education and training for workers to enter new lines of work, and begin diversifying the company to do something else.  It might take decades of work but wise investment would have bought the company and the community time to adjust.  Instead, it looks like Murray may be the type to go down in flames rather than gracefully evolve.

It’s sad that people are losing their jobs, but it’s a lot sadder that a company like Murray Energy would choose to blame anything but themselves for the problem.

Kudos to Jon Gelbard of NRDC for coming up with the Roosevelt simile.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He was instrumental in the creation of TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years as well as an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.