Coal in the US Faces “Absolute Destruction”

August 26, 2015

As Poland endures a crushing drought, vanishing waterways yield long hidden skeletons buried in the mud.


As river levels in Poland fall to record lows in a prolonged drought, Jewish tombstones and a Soviet fighter plane with the remains of its pilots have been found in the riverbank, evidence of Poland’s tortured 20th-century history.

Those discoveries follow the findings of stone fragments from the early 20th-century Poniatowski bridge across the Vistula river in Warsaw, which the Germans blew up in 1944 as they crushed the Warsaw uprising. The bridge was rebuilt after the war.

“The Vistula river is hiding no end of secrets. They are everywhere,” said Jonny Daniels, head of the Jewish foundation From the Depths, who waded into a shallow area of the Vistula on Tuesday, picking up fragments of stones with Hebrew lettering.

Elsewhere on this page, you can see that, similarly, as the fossil fuel industry dries up in the US, Court documents from a coal bankruptcy have revealed ugly details of climate denial’s buried bodies.

This rather stunning news item from several months ago shows that we may be finding more skeletons in the muck as the coal industry continues it’s death spiral – first in the US, then in the rest of the world.


The coal sector’s investment outlook is a paradox.

What’s not to like? Plenty.

Coal stocks have been clobbered, and there remain few signs of life in the sector. The Dow Jones Coal Index has plunged 36.5 percent in the past year, and in the past five years (brace yourself) it is down almost 75 percent—87 percent since before the last recession began in 2007.

Of coal companies that have publicly traded debt, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s rates all their bonds as junk. “If you look at the long term, it’s not getting any better,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Aneesh Prabhu. “It’s a secular decline.”

Almost none of the companies are currently growing sales—a recipe for stock inertia, at best—and at a time when they’re beset by utilities’ switch to natural gas, prompted by hydraulic fracking, a transition that skeptics still don’t think the sector can manage. Natural gas prices collapsed beginning in 2008 as new supplies hit the market, changing probably forever the competitive landscape for fuels used in the electricity business.

In both the U.S. and Europe, regulatory changes now in the pipeline are expected to make new coal-powered electricity plants economically unfeasible, and even accelerate the mothballing of existing coal plants.

Moody’s thinks new EPA rules could cut U.S. coal demand 20 percent by 2020, cutting into the 39 percent share of the market for electricity fuel it held last year, with up to a quarter of coal-fired electric plants closing. Standard & Poor’s thinks coal will produce only 27 percent of America’s electricity by 2025.

It’s not as if the industry hasn’t noticed. Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, the largest underground coal mining company in the U.S. and an outspoken critic of regulation in general and the Obama administration in particular, raised eyebrows with a September energy conference speech in which he cited U.S. Chamber of Commerce data that coal might supply only 14 percent of U.S. electricity fuel by 2030.

“We have the absolute destruction of the coal industry,” said Murray, whose company is privately held. “If you think it’s coming back, you don’t understand the business … because it’s not going to come back.” Murray predicted that prices would not recover until 2016, if then, and several coal companies would be bankrupt soon. He declined to elaborate on his September comments.

Is it a war on coal jobs?
The coal industry’s argument has always been that it is good for the country because it generates lots of jobs and creates cheaper electricity, an argument Murray repeated when suing the EPA over the proposed carbon standards this summer.

Coal mining is down to just 75,900 U.S. jobs, from 175,000 in 1985 and about 80,000 during 2009, (so the war on coal started under President Reagan? – Peter) when President Barack Obama took office, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But at current rates, the U.S. economy would replace those jobs in a week if they all disappeared tomorrow. In Kentucky, where Sen. GOP Leader Mitch McConnell used the administration’s “war on coal” as a rallying point in this year’s election, the 11,000 coal-mining jobs equal the number created by the state’s economy in October and represent less than 0.6 percent of Kentucky jobs.

New regulations have less to do with coal’s job losses so far than the explosion of natural gas does, Zubets-Anderson said. One piece of evidence: Overall, mining and extraction employment has risen by about 5,000 jobs in West Virginia, the nation’s second-largest coal producer behind Wyoming, to 33,200 since 2009 as hiring by oil and gas drillers has offset cuts by coal miners. Wyoming has only 6,400 coal mining workers, down 500 since 2008.

The regulations will effectively squeeze out any rebound in U.S. utilities’ demand for coal, Prabhu said. Most U.S. coal plants are at least 35 years old, and the capital investment needed to upgrade them to comply with the Obama administration’s proposed carbon limits would require running many of those until they are 65 years old or more, well past the average useful life of about five decades, Standard & Poor’s Prabhu said.

7 Responses to “Coal in the US Faces “Absolute Destruction””

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Ditto and Amen!

    • dumboldguy Says:

      To a comment by Morin Moss about Don Blankenship (that has apparently been “moderated” because it was a bit “immoderate”?).

      • MorinMoss Says:

        My comment was too harsh?
        Ok, I’ll try again.

        If convicted, I’d like to see Blankenship serve out his sentence in a coal mine under the same conditions and with the same that he thought was acceptable for his workers, when he 1st took over running Massey Coal in ’89.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          should read “and with the same equipment and quotas that he thought acceptable….”

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Ditto and Amen to that also, although it doesn’t quite measure up to the original.

          And you might add crappy schools for the kids, high prices at the company store, and poor health care for all to what is “acceptable”.

  2. John Scanlon Says:

    Coal is on the way out Down Under, too:

    …and of course Tony Abbott has chained his government to the coal industry, so that each is helping to sink the other. Good riddance!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: