Right on cue, as soon as President Obama announced plans to combat air pollution that causes climate change, his opponents parroted criticisms, including the industry slogan "war on coal." In states like West Virginia, that kind of talk is intended to scare elected officials and keep them pandering to coal interests.
But how about elsewhere? War on coal? In California, the San Jose Mercury News said in a Monday editorial that "Americans should sincerely hope that it is."
The "do-nothing Congress" won't address the looming peril of global warming, so the president was forced to act, the newspaper said. He launched a many-pronged attack, of which the centerpiece "is Obama's order to the Environmental Protection Agency to take the single most important step in the fight against global warming: Set limits on the amount of heat-trapping carbon that coal-fired power plants are allowed to spew into the air. The EPA has a year to produce a first draft of the rules. That's when we'll know whether the Obama administration is serious about launching this necessary war."
The Mercury News said America's 600 coal-fired plants account for 40 percent of the nation's carbon emissions, the single largest source. It says the federal Clean Air Act requires the government to reduce them.
"Polluters and their advocates claim, as they always do, that Obama's plan will destroy jobs and send energy prices soaring. They demonstrate a depressing lack of confidence in the ingenuity of American entrepreneurs, investors and workers.... We're confident that federal regulation will unleash a wave of energy innovation that ultimately saves Americans money on their power bills while cleaning up the air and slowing the rise of the oceans. That's what's been happening in California as it rolls out its cap-and-trade system."
The new U.S. pollution crackdown signals more trouble for the coal industry -- but Appalachia's coalfields already are in decline, regardless of EPA rules against carbon fumes. Thick coal seams are becoming exhausted, and cheap Marcellus gas and cheap Western coal are grabbing markets. Appalachian coal is fading because of economic realities.
What's missing is discussion of how potential job-losers might be assisted to keep from losing their homes and cars while they move out of coal and into new employment. What's missing is discussion of what's next.
The Mercury News and leaders in other states can be forgiven for not being primarily concerned with what could happen to more than 20,000 West Virginia workers still employed by coal. West Virginia leaders cannot.
Much of the rest of the country and the world appears to be interested in getting on with innovation and controlling greenhouse gas emissions for the good of the planet.
Instead of piling on denunciations of a White House "war on coal," Sen. Joe Manchin, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Rep. Nick Joe Rahall should focus on new opportunities and how West Virginia can manage this change. Shaking one's fist at the storm doesn't slow it down.