Two related news items from early this month.
From The Oklahoma Observer: “That shockwave felt across carbon country was a U.S. Energy Information Administration report that clean energy – for the first time – supplied more of America’s electricity than coal in April.”
From KOTA Territory TV in Rapid City, SD: “More than 600 Campbell County workers are reportedly without jobs after a company shut down two coal mines near Gillette.
“Monday, it was reported that Blackjewel LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company operates the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in the Powder River Basin.
“By Tuesday afternoon, workers discovered they not only lost their jobs, they reportedly are unable to cash their last paychecks.”
KOTA points out that these were the fourth and sixth largest coal producing mines in the country. Oh, yeah. Three other Wyoming coal producers “have all filed for bankruptcy in recent years as the demand for coal-fired electricity fades.”
No! It is not a bunch wild-eyed environmentalists closing the mines, but pure economics. Alternative energy is cheaper than coal. And nothing is as sacred to American business as the lowest price possible.
And nothing is as sacred to Republicans as corporate socialism and the donations their benefactors generate for GOP coffers.
Joe Romm of Think Progress detailed a deal as dirty as the air it would befoul as Wyoming legislators assessed the situation.
“Wyoming recently enacted a law that forces utilities seeking to shut down unprofitable coal plants to try to sell them first, and then to buy back the power from the new owner, even if cheaper power is available.
“Shutting down these coal plants and replacing them with cheaper sources, all of which produce cleaner power, would save ratepayers tens of millions of dollars a year. But state Republicans want to artificially prop up these plants, regardless of the economic reality, while their party leaders in Washington have been characterizing Democratic efforts to speed up clean energy deployment to save a livable climate as ‘socialism.’”
Montana Republicans have considered similar legislation.
Oklahoma Sierra Club Chapter Director says that, “almost weekly now, wind energy produces more electricity than fossil fuels in Oklahoma.”
No wonder state GOPers were so adamant about forbidding local control of petro-profitable plastic bags.
According to Romm, University of Wyoming economist Jason Shogren (we can hope he has tenure) told the Wyoming Tribune, “In one sense, it’s a very socialist program.”
Yes, it is damnable socialism to use governmental power to help individuals. But, it’s fine and dandy to make the rest of us pay to prop up “good corporate neighbors.”
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole recently decried such “socialism” in condemning the New Green Deal. But, there are 600 hard-working Americans in Wyoming who are going to need re-training – and maybe some financial help before they get there.
Several of those Wyoming open pit coal mines sit right beside the highway. Heavy machinery, hard work, considerable skill required. (Sound familiar, Oil-patchers?) These are smart, capable folks who are used to taking care of themselves. (I’d think folks remaining in Duncan after the Halliburton firings, could relate to the situation.)
But, the coal industry is facing obsolescence. (And will oil and gas be far behind?)
Hundreds of people face hard times, and The Republican Way would discard these workers as if so much coal slag. “Too bad, doodad.”
“The hard reality, Romm observes, “is that coal-fired power plants have simply become too expensive to operate compared to natural gas and renewable energy. Indeed, building and running new wind and solar farms is now cheaper than just running existing coal plants in many places.”
How expensive? More so every day.
Think Progress reported on July 2 that insurance giant Chubb “said Monday that it will stop investing in the coal industry. It also will put an end to selling policies that go toward constructing new coal plants, and will cease to underwrite companies that generate more than 30 percent of their revenue from coal mining or supply electricity produced by coal.”
And the Republican response is to try to prop up dirty energy sources and condemn efforts to refit America for the 21st century.
In March, Common Dreams reported that, “A senior Trump administration official has told Bloomberg News that the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would see its $2.3 billion budget slashed by about 70 percent, to $700 million, under President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request….
“’It’s a shutdown budget,’ said Mike Carr, who served as the No. 2 official within the division under President Barack Obama. ‘That’s apparently what they want to signal to their base — they still want to shut these programs down,’ Carr told Bloomberg.
“The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which provides hundreds of millions of dollars a year in grants and other financial assistance for clean energy, has financed research into technologies ranging from electric vehicles to energy projects powered by ocean waves. It has been credited with financing research to help make the cost of wind power competitive with coal and cutting the costs of LED lighting.”
Can Republicans get much more regressive? These are just the kinds of projects that could produce new job opportunities needed by the flesh-and-blood people their corporate bean-counters (with their exorbitant profit projections)casts into “redundancy” every day. “Use ‘em up and cast ‘em aside.”
The “New Deal” aspect of the Green New Deal refers to the need for jobs that consist of more than juggling numbers. The “Green” aspect refers to the environment all of us – and especially succeeding generations – require if they are to have healthy lives.
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party