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Coal bashers between ‘black rock’ and a hard place

In “Catch-22,” author Joseph Heller reports that “Group Headquarters was alarmed, for there was no telling what people might find out once they felt free to ask whatever questions they wanted to.”

This had to be stopped, which Colonel Korn succeeds in doing by implementing a rule governing the asking of questions.

“Colonel Korn’s rule was a stroke of genius,” Heller wrote. “Under Colonel Korn’s rule, the only people permitted to ask questions were those who never did. Soon the only people attending were those who never asked questions, and the sessions were discontinued altogether, since Clevinger, the corporal and Colonel Korn agreed that it was neither possible nor necessary to educate people who never questioned anything.”

The “possible” part has me especially concerned when it comes to Kentucky’s coal industry. 

This industry’s impact goes way beyond the 18,000 miners shoveling coal each day while making $70,000 a year and the three coal-industry jobs tied to each miner’s position.

Add up all of the residual effects and, according to the National Mining Association, you have 84,000 jobs supported by “black rock” – just in the commonwealth.

Environmental activists usually don’t deny the industry’s economic impact or that Kentucky needs good jobs. Yet they and their enablers never seem to get around to asking – or answering: If we use government’s regulatory process to deny permits and essentially besiege the coal industry until it starves to death or remains on life support – how will we turn on our lights, heat our homes, keep schools and churches open and fuel our businesses?

If more opponents of coal were at least giving the appearance of seriously grappling with that question, my level of concern might not be as high about the future of Kentucky’s greatest natural resource and one of its greatest economic assets.

Instead, it’s becoming so politically incorrect to speak of the coal industry and its benefits in any positive terms whatsoever that to even question the assumptions of those with anti-coal agendas clearly is taboo.

But since we’re much more concerned about factual – rather than political – correctness, I ask: What evidence do coal-bashers – including the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency regulators – offer that alternative sources like solar and wind power can be produced in sufficient quantity at an efficient cost to meet rising energy demands?

It’s doubtful that many of the alternative sources being considered will ever produce the amount of energy needed to meet the expected 40-percent increase in electricity demand the United States will experience just within the next decade.

But coal bashers protest: If government would just make a sizeable “investment” (read: gobs of your tax dollars) in solar and wind power, we could keep the windmills turning and the sun from ever going down.

Sizeable investments have taken place. The Obama White House invested a half-billion public dollars in Solyndra LLC, a California-based solar panel manufacturer while promising that 4,000 new jobs would be created.

Not only did those jobs never materialize, the company went bust within two years of the $535 million loan guarantee. The slick photo-ops, complete with promises of “going green” politically benefited the administration – but not those who lost their jobs.

Kentucky’s coal industry, meanwhile, has demonstrated staying power for centuries. It has improved its safety and environmental record significantly while offering good jobs in the worst of economic times.

And since, as one wise sage put it, “truth fears no question,” I ask: What proven alternative exists that’s capable of meeting our increased energy demands with such an affordable price tag for the future?

Does this mean coal bashers are in a quandary – a “catch-22” situation, if you will?

Contributor Bio: Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected]. Read previously published columns at

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