Ugh. 1,200 Coal Jobs Gone.

Favor of solar? Check. Favor reducing dependence on carbon energy sources? Check. Favor further curbs on air pollution from power plants? Check.

Favor 1,200 men and women finding themselves tomorrow without a job? No. The lede:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Coal producer Alpha Natural Resources said Tuesday it’s cutting production by 16 million tons and eliminating 1,200 jobs companywide, including 400 with the immediate closing of eight mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

No one favors this. No one wants to see hard working people lose their jobs. It’s tragic for them and their families in a way I hope I never, never personally experience.

Crutchfield [company CEO] called it “a difficult day,” but said the shutdowns and layoffs are a necessary part of ensuring Alpha survives in what has become a difficult U.S. market, where coal companies face a dual challenge: Power plants are shifting to cheap, abundant natural gas, while companies like his face “a regulatory environment that’s aggressively aimed at constraining the use of coal.”

The news is tragic, not surprising. We’ve discussed before that coal, for now, is out of favor for strictly economic reasons. And we’ve not been shy about arguing for changes in public policy that would cost coal country precisely these type of jobs. I for one strongly favor an economic/industrial/political transition away from coal and toward distributed (rooftop) solar.

But my point today is that a lot of us labor under the illusion that people can transition from old industry to new industry – from coal to solar, let’s say – and the economic and personal repercussions level out. But that’s simply not true. There is death and there is birth. There is infrequently rebirth, or reinvention: no coal company is going to awaken tomorrow as a solar plant. The marketplace thrives on creative destruction, and solar/renewable energy will rise by stepping on the back of dead coal jobs. We need to understand this to keep us humble, and honest.

I wish 1,200 of my fellow citizens the best of luck today.


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