Recent conservative media reports suggest the jobs picture won’t get better unless President Obama and the EPA roll back clean air regulations that are leading to job losses in the coal industry.
It should be noted that the job losses in the coal industry are mainly due to less power being used and the fact that coal is losing market share to natural gas. And that is the really odd part about this argument. Conservatives love the free market and competition, yet the reality is that coal just isn’t competitive right now.
Sure a small part of the reason that coal isn’t competitive is the clean air regulations that require lower emissions which are more expensive for the coal industry to meet than the natural gas industry. But conservatives are more than happy to make extraneous regulations that costs jobs when it comes to other industries, so why is coal such a sacred cow?
Additionally we know that Mitt Romney’s chief energy adviser believes the subsidies to the oil industry are necessary for the industry to “produce jobs” while when it comes to renewable energy, Mitt would like to remove all subsidies and let it “thrive wherever it is economically competitive.” Regardless of whether the advantage given by the government comes from subsidies or regulations, it is still a manipulation of the free market.
Of course it should also be noted that jobs in energy are not disappearing because the coal mining industry is shrinking. The jobs are just moving. The natural gas industry, for example, added more jobs from 2006 to 2008 (105,000) than ever existed in the coal mining industry (peaked at 89,000 jobs in 1997). The country is also adding tens of thousands of jobs in the renewable energy segment.
According to the American Lung Association, 72% of Americans support new standards for carbon emissions. Capitalism tells us that if coal isn’t cost effective in an environment where clean air is a priority, then the industry should and will die.
The reality is that the U.S. only uses so much energy and saving coal jobs will end up costing natural gas jobs. Typically when the government makes special exceptions like this that interfere in the free market, conservatives complain about the government picking the winners and losers. but this debate is not about the insincere implication that conservatives hate all regulations. It’s about votes.