FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

King Coal is Losing Its Crown

by TED NACE

You wouldn’t want to be King Coal these days. The coal mining industry, once a pillar of the US economy, is in the dumps as demand for the carbon-intensive black rock continues to plummet.

Here in the United States, coal demand fell by 21 percent from 2007 to 2012. With scores of existing coal plants scheduled to be retired in the coming years, the outlook has continued to dim for the industry. As a result, investors have fled the sector, and stock prices for major coal companies such as Peabody and Arch are down by 75 percent from only a few years ago.

Desperate to find a solution to their domestic problems, coal mining executives have sought markets abroad, hoping that growing demand in China and India would generate a new boom in coal exports. Yet here again, the news has been bleak for the mining companies. In the Pacific Northwest, a stiffening line of resistance in port and rail line communities continues to stymie proposals for new, large export terminals. And at the demand end of the pipeline, prospects seem no better, particularly in China, where the unprecedented “airpocalypse” smog of early 2013 sparked strong new government initiatives to finally rein in coal usage. In June, Bernstein Research, a top Wall Street analytical firm, privately circulated a report titled, “Asian Coal & Power: Less, Less, Less… The Beginning of the End of Coal.” According to sources who had read the 140-page report, Bernstein predicted an end to Chinese coal imports in 2015 and an absolute decline in Chinese coal demand by 2016.

As China shows signs of moving away from coal, more bad news for the coal industry quickly followed, this time in the form of dramatic shifts in policy by major international financiers. In June, President Obama declared that the US would no longer fund coal plants overseas except in rare instances. In July, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank both announced similar policies. Next came a joint announcement by the leaders of five Nordic countries that they also would end public financing of coal plants. A week later, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced that it was dropping its support for the controversial Kulubara B coal plant in Serbia. Meanwhile, more than 17,000 people signed a petition urging the EBRD to take the next logical step and end coal financing altogether.

With the shift in policy by financial institutions making it more difficult to initiate new coal plants, environmentalists have increased their pressure on the World Bank to take a second look at recent approvals, such as the massive 4,000 MW Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project in Gujarat, India. Although the project received a greenlight from the World Bank and construction was completed in March 2013, a new report by a fact-finding team led by former Chief Justice of Sikkim S. N. Bhargava pointed to a multiplicity of unresolved environmental issues. Led by a group called MASS (Machhimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan, meaning Association for the Struggle for Fishworkers’ Rights), local communities, with additional support from the Sierra Club and other large groups, have demanded compensation for mangrove destruction, contaminated fisheries, and other impacts. MASS has filed complaints to the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

Here in the United States, the bad prospects for coal internationally continue to depress future mining prospects. One dramatic example: in August the US Bureau of Land Management failed to receive a single bid for 148 million tons of federally owned coal being offered for sale in the Powder River Basin.

Of course, bad news for King Coal is good news for Mother Earth. Just five years ago, NASA climate chief Dr. James Hansen wrote to Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons that ending emissions from coal “is 80 percent of the solution to the global warming crisis.” Though much remains to be done to phase out coal, the developments of 2013 have certainly raised the level of hope that King Coal will soon lose its crown.

Ted Nace is the author of Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy and the director of CoalSwarm, a collaborative information clearinghouse on U.S. and international coal mines, plants, companies, politics, impacts, and alternatives.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Martha Durkee-Neuman
Millennial Organizers Want to See An Intersectional Understanding Of Gun Violence
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail