Colstrip, MT Generating Station - Photo by Rustina Mullins
Colstrip, MT Generating Station – Photo by Rustina Mullins

Since its inception, electrification has been largely powered by coal. Until the early 2000s, coal held the most prominent place of electrical generation fuel sources at 50%. That number has since fallen to roughly 39%[1] and continues to plummet worldwide[2].

In the many impoverished coal mining regions of this nation, this news is devastating as thousands of coal miners are being laid off.  The coal industry has been quick to point fingers, aiming the fear and frustrations of their employees towards a “war on coal” that they say is being waged by liberal democrats and the EPA, all of whom are being pressured by “treehugging” environmentalists. Though President Obama and the EPA have been working towards new standards that will hold coal companies and coal fired power plants to higher standards, (making it harder for them to create messes they don’t clean up), the efforts of environmentalists and their political allies only accounts for a very small percentage of the issues facing coal.

For nearly as long as coal has been around, so has oil. The oil industry is massive and powers the world economy. Everything we do, everything we consume and depend upon to live requires oil. From the manufacturing of fertilizers and pesticides that increase crop production, to the massive tractors that till the soil of the Midwest, and the tractor trailers that haul our food—oil feeds the masses. Goods and the raw materials necessary to produce them are shipped around the world using oil—even the coal that must make it from mine site to power plant (or export terminal). Make no mistake, big oil is bigger than big.

The oil industry is merciless. Though coal has much political power in their respective states (Kentucky, West Virginia, Wyoming, Montana, Alabama), their power is minuscule compared to the way oil companies manipulate global politics. Right now, and as they have for decades, oil companies are funding murderous despotic regimes in third world countries and have succeeded twice in getting the US involved in Middle Eastern wars. Chevron, the 9th largest oil company in the world, has global assets of nearly $250 billion. How large are the assets of the top 10 oil companies combined?

For years the oil industry has held little interest in the electrical generation market, remaining content with their control of the world economy. At least until they found a new way in.

With the drilling technology already at their fingertips, the oil industry has begun tapping into the world’s natural gas reserves, thereby developing an energy resource capable of overthrowing King Coal’s long held reign. They have access to cheap, profitable energy, and they intend to make very use of it. But don’t believe that King Coal is an innocent bystander—collateral damage of a new market shift.

To believe that the wealthy stake holders within the coal industry in this market takeover haven’t been preparing for it and planning it to their advantage would be childishly naïve.

Investors are investors. It is their job to predict these things, to foresee the financial future, and make as much money as possible from it. In the case of the coal industry, who has seen this coming for much longer than any of us have, they’ve found a huge opportunity to use the death of their industry to their fullest advantage. Through calling it a “War on Coal” and scaring coal miners and their families with the possibility of layoffs, coal companies have been able to manipulate communities into fighting for them, people whom they’ve exploited for over one hundred years. The coal industry’s well played public relations game has even caused people to ignore the death and destruction that exists all round them.

Coal companies are sending the people of coal mining communities straight off of an economic cliff while they themselves are walking into the bank to cash out one last time.

As with any large market shift of this type, it’s always the working people who suffer the most.

So let’s summarize….
We all know that Washington runs on money, especially BIG money interests. We know the Koch Brothers and other oil industry people are funneling millions into lobbying campaigns. They are using the politicians to control the EPA so they can set themselves up for faster, easier fracking while shutting coal down so the coal generation market could be taken over.

Coal companies are owned by some rich people and they have some lobbying clout. They also didn’t get rich investing stupidly. They are riding this wave to. The coal executives are smart enough to put their money in gas, and while their buddies in the oil industry are paying to have the politically controlled EPA clamping down on coal, they can use public relations to call it a “war on coal” so people living in the coalfields will focus all their energy on fighting regulations that shut down the only jobs in town. It also comes with the ancillary benefits of making coal miners and their families more desperate so they work harder and produce more which reduces labor costs, and miners even vote in coal friendly politicians without having to pay as much in campaign contributions, not to mention those politicians will gut the regulations making it even cheaper to run coal in dirty ways.

Now if a 4th generation coal miner can come up with that on his own, you HAVE to know that college educated businessmen, lawyers, and politicians figured it out long before me.

So the question is, do we hate the EPA, or do we hate those who would make the most money from lax environmental laws?




  1. Thought-provoking website, thanks!

    It’s just possible that we will meet next weekend, back in my village. We almost had a new coal mine there, on Vancouver Island, back in 1997, but one of the big natural-gas companies blew into town and decided that they wanted the lands for **their** drilling projects, and further worked very very hard to try to tie us up in legal knots over our coal rights. In the end, neither side won: we all ran out of money, fighting over the sandbox.

    Now I travel 2000 klicks each way to go to work in the mines, and the only winners are the airlines. I spit when I think of how that all went down.

    Yours thoughtfully,

    another coal miner, refusing to accept the status quo


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