Wall Street Journal Reports 'Fall of King Coal,' But Buries Who the Miners Blame: Obama

Here’s one fairly obvious sign The Wall Street Journal isn’t run as a partisan Obama-bashing rag after being acquired by Rupert Murdoch. On the front of Wednesday’s paper is an article headlined “The Fall of King Coal Hits Hardest in the Mines of Kentucky.” Reporters Kris Maher and Tom McGinty used federal data to note the number of mining jobs has collapsed in eastern Kentucky.

But there’s no mention of who the miners blame for their plight until paragraph 29. That’s a “war on coal” waged by Barack Obama:

In interviews with more than two dozen unemployed miners, nearly all blamed President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency for their plight. They cited a series of regulations to tighten emissions rules for coal-burning power plants, which they said amounted to what has popularly been called a "war on coal."

Obama's starving us out. He ain't got a clue," said Paul Swanson, 46, of Cawood, Ky., who was laid off the day before Thanksgiving in 2012 from a mine with a 27-inch-thick coal seam, which requires miners to work on their knees. After his lengthy unemployment, he said he no longer can afford a phone.

Most coal industry executives see the situation as more complex. They say the stepped-up regulations have exacerbated a market depression brought about by new fracking technologies that have revolutionized natural gas drilling and made it possible to tap massive reservoirs of gas from deep shale layers.

"We're in a structural shift as a result of the regulatory environment," said Kevin Crutchfield, chief executive of Alpha Natural Resources Inc. of Bristol, Va. "I don't think the scale would be nearly as great" without increased regulations.

Natural gas is on the rise, but that’s in part due to Obama’s 2008 promise to bankrupt investors in coal: "So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted." Obama's mentioned only in passing by the Journal as the human toll is listed:

The human toll is starkly evident. In Kentucky's Harlan County, the number of mining jobs had fallen 48% from 2011 through June, according to the Journal analysis. The county's unemployment rate had risen to 16.3% as of August, the 13th highest of more than 3,000 counties in the nation, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates.

Some declines are sharper in neighboring counties. As of June, mining jobs were down 54% in Letcher County from 2011, and laid-off miners are the equivalent of nearly half of unemployed workers. In smaller Knott County, mining jobs are down 68% from 2011, and the number of laid-off miners roughly equals the county's unemployed population.

Analysts have started to compare Central Appalachia to other mined-out areas around the globe, such as Germany's Ruhr valley, or Great Britain, which employed 6,000 coal miners last year, compared with 150,000 in 1983, according to the British government.

Coal Industry Wall Street Journal Kentucky Kris Maher Tom McGinty
Tim Graham's picture