It seems like more and more folks are realizing that the drop-off in Central Appalachian coal production is about economics. The Charleston Gazette's editorial board is the latest to address the issue on the heels of the West Virginia Coal Forum, which put the blame on the EPA. "This is your tax dollars at work," the editorial stated, "staging rallies to blame the federal administration for a shift in the economy that only marginally involves rules against toxic pollution."
The real issue, as many of us know, is the staggeringly low price of natural gas, coupled with a fleet of very old, expensive-to-maintain coal-fired power plants. Even the president of American Electric Power is quoted in the editorial saying, "Nobody is building any new coal. The economics just aren't there. Gas is just so cheap…. I don't think anybody is going to build a coal plant, given natural gas prices. It's just economics." And those old coal plants? “They’re just so old that it doesn’t make sense to spend the money to make them comply with the existing rules. Under any scenario you looked at, regardless of EPA rules, all those plants were gone anyway.”
So where does this leave coalfield communities? The Gazette believes that we must start looking toward the future: "Someday, West Virginians may look back and see today as a transition period, when the same ruthless economic forces that led to the rise of coal, altered life again in the Mountain State.