CNN Money: 'Hillary Can't Kill Coal; It's Already Dying' (No, Obama Is Killing It)

In a Monday afternoon post which gets close to taking pleasure in the serious economic decline in the heart of the coal mining industry in West Virginia, CNN Money's Patrick Gillespie observed, based on Hillary Clinton's recent remarks about coal miners' jobs, that she "has no love for coal companies."

But in Gillespie's world, what Mrs. Clinton said doesn't matter, because "Clinton won't have much coal to put out of business: the industry is already gutted." Besides, in a complete flight of fancy, the CNN Money reporter appears to believe that the solar industry and its current army of 209,000 workers will pick up the slack. The facts, including the hugely inconvenient truth that solar only accounts for barely 1 percent of the power produced by coal, say otherwise.

Gillespie, as seen in his opening paragraphs, can't seem to make up his mind whether the Obama administration's war on coal is real or a figment of his opponents' imaginations — but he seems to like the results:

Hillary Clinton can't kill coal. It's already dying

Hillary Clinton has no love for coal companies.

"We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business," Clinton said Sunday night. Her critics say she and President Obama are at war with coal companies.

But the war might already be over. Clinton won't have much coal to put out of business: the industry is already gutted.

The number of coal workers in the United States -- 57,700 -- is at a record low since data was tracked. Coal employment declined in every single month last year and it's down dramatically from the mid-1980s when there were over 175,000 coal jobs.

It isn't just Hillary Clinton's critics who are saying that "she and President Obama are at war with coal companies." It is an obvious fact — as Gillespie himself seem to acknowledge in his very next sentence — that they are at war with coal companies.

As to the employment figures he provided, here's the translation: "Gosh, isn't this great! There are over 117,000 fewer coal miners than there were 30 years ago!" Gillespie didn't provide links to his current or mid-1980s "number of coal workers."

Information at the government's own Mine Safety & Health Administration appears to indicate that his figures are incomplete:

CoalMiners1983to2014

Technically, the MSHA's definition has included office workers since the early 1970s, but that wouldn't seem to resolve the differences between Gillespie's and the government's figures — unless the industry laid off half of its workers last year.

More crucially, as is so often the case in tracking these things, the reporter fails to tell readers how much of a business's decline has occurred during the Obama administration or to give any context to the decline.

As seen above, coal worker employment grew steadily from 2003 until 2011, and began to significantly decline after that.

But to complete the picture, we need to look at workers' productivity:

  • The 197,000 miners in 1985 produced 879 million short tons of coal (Page xiii at link).
  • The 143,000 miners in 2011, which was coal's peak year, produced 1.096 billion short tons (Page 3 at link) from 1,325 mines — an impressive 72 percent increase in coal produced per worker during the intervening 26 years.
  • Three years later, in 2014, the industry had over 27,000 fewer employees and roughly 9 percent lower output.  264 mines were closed in 2012 and 2013. (I could not locate a coal mine count for 2014.) Ironically, 2014's output per worker was 12 percent higher than 2011.

The employment drop after 2011 "just so happened" to coincide with when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set arbitrary limits on toxic air pollutants. The Supreme Court ruled four years later that the EPA, in words found at The Hill, "did not properly consider the costs of the regulation."  But the damage was done, because, contrary to Gillespie's waffling statements, there has been a war on coal — and the envirozealots have been winning.

All of this background is painfully necessary, because we have to compare the coal industry's productivity to that seen in the solar industry, especially because Gillespie seems to imply that it's where the employment — and presumably the energy production — really is.

It starts with his celebration of the growth in solar industry employment back in January:

SolarIndustryEmployment2010to2015

In Monday's writeup, Gillespie mentions the industry's employment growth:

Clinton's main point Sunday night was that she plans to replace coal jobs with clean energy jobs in places like Boone County. So far, that hasn't happened.

"There's no one transitioning into green energy jobs," says (Boone County, WV Development Director Kris) Mitchell. "Some people still believe coal will come back."

Mitchell says local leaders aren't opposed to solar energy jobs. They just haven't had solar companies jump in yet. One major solar company, Vivint Solar (VSLR), declined to comment. Another solar employer, First Solar (FSLR), didn't respond to request for comment.

The solar industry could help fill some of the job gap in Boone County: the number of solar jobs nationwide has doubled in five years to around 209,000. The solar energy workforce is now three times the size of the coal mining industry. But most of these companies are located in the country's sun belt in states like Arizona.

Three times as many workers in the solar industry produced only 0.4 percent of the nation's power in 2014.

Coal, which had accounted for as much as 55 percent of the nation's power in previous years, provided 39 percent that year. That's 98 times more than solar.

If we take Gillespie at his word about relative employment levels, each of the roughly 70,000 coal workers (209,000 divided by 3, rounded) produces almost 300 times as much power as each worker in the solar industry (98 times as much total energy produced with one-third as many workers).

Put another way, the solar industry at its current scale would, based on the numbers presented by Gillespie, need to employ over 60 million workers before it could produce as much power as the coal industry. (209,000 times almost 300).

Maybe things can change down the road, but for now, solar is the whole-industry equivalent of the spoons described in the following story relayed by Stephen Moore in the Wall Street Journal in 2009:

At one of our dinners, (the late free-market economist) Milton (Friedman) recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: "You don't understand. This is a jobs program." To which Milton replied: "Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it's jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels."

The coal industry, which employed over 800,000 workers during the early-1920s, went from metaphorical shovels to earth movers decades ago. The Democratic Party and its envirozealots want to put the industry entirely out of business. The solar industry is still using spoons. The Democratic Party and its envirozealots want all of the nation's power to be generated by solar and other "green" sources — but not nuclear, heaven forbid.

What an epic wasteful, expensive and dangerous proposition so much of what is known as "green energy" actually is.

What absolutely awful reporting based on breathtaking ignorance CNN Money's Patrick Gillespie produced.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Campaigns & Elections 2016 Presidential Economy Business Coverage Coal Industry Regulation Environment Global Warming Government Agencies Media Bias Debate Bias by Omission Labeling Political Groups Liberals & Democrats Online Media Blogs CNN.com Major Newspapers Wall Street Journal

Sponsored Links