Coal is on the decline.
One of the country’s largest coal companies declared bankruptcy last week. And since President Donald Trump took office three years ago, eight coal companies have declared bankruptcy.
It’s not Trump’s fault. In fact, Trump has done all he can do to subsidize coal and attempt to put it back into the mainstream of American life. But it hasn’t worked.
Federal fossil fuel subsidies have far outranked federal subsidies to education. America: Hang your head in shame.
Trump has taken every opportunity to call it “beautiful clean coal” in an attempt to convince America to give up on cleaner, safer ways to produce electricity and return to digging coal out of the ground, burning it in ugly, dirty dangerous furnaces that spew carbon dioxide and all manner of chemicals in the air which adds to the climate change emergency that Trump and his people ignore.
I hear that at one point in London history, coal was forbidden to be used to heat homes. They believed coal smoke caused pneumonia, which led to death much of the time in those days.
They weren’t far from wrong.
A few hundred years ago, the saltwater brine wells in the Kanawha Valley were the principal source of salt for much of pioneer America.
To transform the brine into salt, the water was boiled. It is said the salt makers cut and burned all the trees in the Kanawha Valley to fire the boilers rather than use the abundant coal. They believed, as did those early Londoners, that coal smoke caused disease and made life miserable.
The late great Ken Hechler once said the worst thing that ever happened to West Virginia was when coal was discovered in Mountain Mama. Without coal, he said, the economics of this state would be considerably more positive and life would be better. We would be more like the economy of Vermont rather than the chaos and economy of Third World countries.
I have a friend who moved from his native West Virginia to Vermont in his retirement. He couldn’t stand what coal had done to West Virginia but still yearned for green mountains.
The world is coming to recognize that there is no such thing as “beautiful clean coal,” as Trump calls it. But still the president clings to the illusion that coal will return to its former grandeur. He even claims that coal use has been on the increase since he took office.
That is a bald-faced lie, as are many of the other claims Trump makes.
Coal producers join with Trump and promote coal with hollow words. One at a time, coal-burning furnaces in America are being shut down in favor of natural gas-burning furnaces, which use much cheaper fuel to produce electricity with less pollution.
Then there are the windmills and solar cells that produce electricity with no pollution at all. This non-polluting way of generating electricity will eventually win out if humanity lasts that long without destroying itself.
I don’t feel sorry for millionaire and billionaire coal barons. But I feel sorry for out-of-work miners. For whatever reason, so many of them are addicted to mining coal.
As it says in the song “Dark as a Dungeon”:
Seek not your fortune in the dark dreary mines.
It will form as a habit and seep in your soul.
Till the blood in your veins runs as black as the coal.
As the song continues, coal and coal mining causes misery:
It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew.
Where dangers are many and pleasure are few.
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines.
It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines.
Alas, coal creates a dungeon-like world when it is used as a fuel.
The real problem, of course, is that the state’s leadership is also addicted to coal and refuses to envision the state without coal as a major tax producer.
As the years go by, less and less tax money will come from coal as our leaders and coal cheerleaders continue to delude themselves and us and claim coal will make a comeback and we’ll all get rich.
The fact is no coal-rich region in the world has ever returned coal profits to the places where coal is mined. And West Virginia will never attain economic justice until every mine is closed and all the people who have drained West Virginia of its riches have not only left the state but turned the state over to people who really care for it.