Emily Atkin blames the President, but everybody who digs coal is going bankrupt. It's bigger and deeper.
We have been covering Bob Murray and his coal company since TreeHugger started. Five years ago, Sami wrote about Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, one of the nation's biggest coal producers, who blamed President Obama for destroying the coal industry. Sami noted:
He claimed at the time about clean air regulations: "We have the absolute destruction of the U.S. coal industry. It’s not coming back. If you think it’s coming back … you’re smoking dope."
Robert Murray is known for his outspoken, inflammatory views. He's termed green-minded corporations "un-American". He's attacked action on climate change at the very same time as he had miners trapped underground. And he seems to have a permanent bee in his bonnet about President Obama being out to get him.
Obama's regulations never actually came into force, and President Trump has been doing everything he can to roll them back and promote clean, beautiful coal. In 2016, with Donald Trump elected, Murray changed his tune and said, “Coal will come back.”
But it turns out Mr. Murray was right the first time; Murray Energy has just filed for bankruptcy protection. According to Emily Atkin in her wonderful newsletter Heated,
....the main filing didn’t blame environmental regulations for the company’s recent downfall. In fact, the filing blamed the bankruptcy of America’s largest private coal company on a trade war started by President Donald Trump, and monsoon season made worse by climate change. Kinda makes ya think, doesn’t it?
The filing notes in greater detail how the market for coal is in serious decline.
This sector-wide decline has been driven largely by (a) the closure of approximately 93,000 megawatts of coal-fired electric generating capacity in the United States, (b) a record production of inexpensive natural gas, and (c) the growth of wind and solar energy, with gas and renewables, displacing coal used by U.S. power plants.
But a lot of the reduction in coal demand is due to politics and climate change; Atkin points to a footnote in the bankruptcy filing:
Overall weakness in the global demand for coal has been driven by a number of factors, including: low liquefied natural gas prices; a recent trade war driving Russia to increase exports; mild weather across the Northern Hemisphere led to a reduction in demand for heating in both Europe and Asia; higher freight costs; and a prolonged monsoon season in India which kept demand depressed while conditions cleared for a record eight months.
Atkin notes that the reduced demand, and the prolonged monsoon, are both the result of climate change, which is in part the result of burning too much of Bob Murray's coal.
A dozen years ago, when six of Bob Murray's miners were trapped underground and all of the news was about their rescue, he took the opportunity to claim:
Every one of these global warming bills that has been introduced in Congress to date eliminates the coal industry and will increase your electric rates four to five-fold.
Meanwhile, wind and solar are now cheaper than coal. It's done. Atkin titles her post Trump caused Murray Energy's bankruptcy, but that's actually not entirely fair; it was dying anyway. Gas is cheaper and you can spin up a gas generator a lot more quickly; it works better with inconsistent renewables. It's cleaner, so you can build the plants closer to the users. It's easy to dump on Trump but in this case he tried to save coal, and he failed.