The decline of coal as a source of electric power is inevitable and well under way. This is a good thing, because whether measured by its effect on public health or its contribution to global warming, coal is more harmful than any other widely used source of electricity.
But there’s a human cost to this transition: unemployment in coal country. Over the past five years, as the U.S. coal mining industry has lost 94 percent of its market value, some 15,000 jobs have disappeared in West Virginia and Kentucky alone. West Virginia’s Boone County and Kentucky’s Union County have lost roughly one job for every 24 residents.
Although the pain has been cruelly concentrated, it should be of national concern. That’s not because the government is to blame; more than anything else, the low price of natural gas has undermined the market value of coal-fired power.
But coal’s decline is accelerated by public policies designed to reduce deaths from air pollution and limit climate change. And while the government is right to restrict coal’s emissions, it should also help people deal with the consequences.
The regions that are suffering are ill-equipped to cope on their own. West Virginia’s 2014 per-capita income was $36,644, the lowest of any state save Mississippi; as of last November, just 53 percent of its residents were working, the lowest share in the country. Kentucky came next, at 56.1 percent. The suicide rates in both states are among the nation’s highest.
For the rest of this editorial, click here: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2016-01-25/let-coal-die-save-coal-country-