The War On Coal’s Economic Casualties


Reacting to yesterday’s EPA announcement, Waldman downplays the potential economic damage of going after the coal industry:

One argument against waging war on coal—that it will cost too many jobs—isn’t really persuasive, because there just aren’t that many coal miners anymore. The National Mining Association has data on the number of miners going back to 1923, when there were over 700,000 Americans doing this work (the data are once a decade until the 1980s, after which they have figures for every year) …

Today, there are fewer than 90,000 Americans mining coal; depending on how you count, there are more people working in the solar power industry. That figure doesn’t include people who work for coal companies but aren’t involved in mining (clerks, accountants, etc.), and of course it doesn’t include people whose livings are dependent on the coal industry, like those who own businesses in mining towns. But the point is that in terms of manpower, coal has become a tiny industry. In the 1920s, one out of every 150 Americans was a coal miner; today it’s one out of every 3,600 Americans.

Cassidy cheers Obama’s war on coal:

In all likelihood, the ultimate fate of Obama’s plan will hinge on the 2016 Presidential election. For now, though, he has taken the initiative and put the onus on other countries that have used the lack of U.S. action as an excuse for doing nothing, or very little, to reduce their carbon emissions. China and India, for instance, are both building coal-fired power plants. If the new policy goes into effect, the United States, at long last, will be able to tell them “Do as I do” rather than just “Do as I say.” Since climate change is a global problem that can only be solved at the global level, that is an important step forward.

Daniel Gross tells the energy industry to quit whining:

The EPA doesn’t plan to proscribe coal generation. It’s simply setting a new standard, telling states that they have to reduce emissions related to energy use—but it is leaving the implementation up to them. Closing coal plants and/or installing carbon-scrubbing technology are only two of many ways to reach that goal. Many of the alternatives have a lower cost, some of them have no cost, and virtually all of them will prove economically beneficial over time. In effect, this standard, like so many other hotly contested standards relating to energy use—the 2007 light bulb rule, new standards for vehicle gas mileage or for appliances—is simply a diktat to the industry to stop being so lazy.

Ronald Bailey is skeptical about the EPA’s claims that these regulations will save money:

The EPA calculates that the maximum cost for implementing the new regulations amounts to $7.5 billion in 2020, while the maximum net climate and health benefits range from $27 to $50 billion at a 3 percent discount rate or $26 to $46 billion at a 7 percent dicount rate. On it’s face, that sounds like a pretty good deal. But as I reported last August in my article, “The Social Cost of Carbon: Garbage In, Garbage Out,” anyone can pretty much conjure whatever number one wants when it comes to cranking out the social cost of carbon through integrated assessment models that combine econometric and climate prognostications.

But Chris Mooney expects the plan to pay off:

There is a long tradition of cost overestimates for new environmental regulations. At the Huffington Post, Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick provides an extensive documentation, going back to the 1970s, arguing that such claims of huge costs not only have a long history, but that they are “always wrong.”

Among other things, Gleick links to a 2011 EPA study finding that the benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments (which, of course, were attacked on grounds of supposed cost) “exceeded costs by a factor of more than 30 to one.” That’s not the only such study. In fact, as the World Resources Institute’s Ruth Greenspan Bell has noted, from 1999 to 2009, EPA water and clean-air regulations overall were clear cost-benefit winners. The total costs, according to a 2010 Office of Management and Budget report, were some $26-$29 billion, while the benefits were far greater: $82-$533 billion.