It’s been a month into this new decade, so I figured it’s time to take a step back and look at how far we’ve come in the past ten years. Music, movies, the way we live and our resources have all changed dramatically since 2010. Our atmosphere, literal and cultural, has shifted so quickly over the past decade, with the new and improved towering over the decaying and old. It’s never been a better time to go “out with the old and in with the new.” When it comes to coal companies, this is especially the case.
The 2010s was a great decade for solar power. According to SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association), the industry saw an average of 50% annual growth this past decade and has been responsible for the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. SEIA said over 242,000 Americans have worked in the industry, and these jobs can vary from administrative work to hard labor. This massive growth is coupled with falling prices for solar panel installations and consequently higher investment in the solar industry as a whole. Improvements in technology and rising competition have also led to increased efficiency and more powerful solar batteries. These advances will only continue to develop as we enter the new decade. Can the same be said for coal?
Coal was once one of the powerhouses of the economy, but over time, it has faced a steep decline. The New York Times said coal used to make up over 40% of our power usage, but over the past few years, it has fallen to below 25%. This is exemplified by the multiple bankruptcies in the coal industry. In March 2019, Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy protection, making it the eighth company to do so in a single year. Robert E. Murray, the chief executive of the failed company, had donated money to the Trump administration in hopes that his company could grow back. Apparently, deregulating environmental restrictions on carbon dioxide production and cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget was supposed to be enough. Despite President Trump following Murray’s wishes, Murray Energy still did not have enough profit to continue operating as is. Now, when companies file for bankruptcy, they often come back as much smaller versions of themselves, a shell of their former prowess. The problem with this is that when coal plants are closed, jobs are cut, and health and retirement benefits are slashed for employees. The whole point of President Trump’s policy changes was to save coal jobs, but they only seem to be benefiting CEOs. Instead of trying to delay the inevitable, President Trump should focus on creating jobs in already expanding industries.
Despite the regulation cuts, coal companies are still on the decline. According to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, this is for reasons that extend beyond environmental concerns. Job loss was bound to happen due to the increasing productivity of new coal manufacturing techniques. Western U.S. coal, which was produced with less workers, eventually caused the decline of eastern U.S. coal due to the decreased labor costs. Moreover, increased competitiveness with other sources of energy made coal less appealing. Natural gas, while still a fossil fuel, saw major price decreases starting in 2009. The ample amounts of natural gas combined with its cheap costs made it the most used resource for electricity in 2016. Other more renewable options, such as wind and solar energy, have seen huge increases in productivity. Essentially, after the 2008 Recession, coal began to be realized as less feasible to our economy.
What’s to come in the next few years is not hard to predict when it comes to coal. Natural gas has become the more plentiful fossil fuel, and renewable energy is slowly but surely catching up. Coal companies will continue to shut down, despite political initiative, and thousands of Americans will look for jobs in industries that provide them with higher rates of job security. When I say “out with the old and in with the new,” I mean it, especially for the coal industry. Its effects on the environment are not even worth its lackluster productivity. These bankruptcies only reiterate that coal is no longer the economically-feasible choice. Investors in coal companies should divert their funds to more environmental causes that have consistently better yields. We can help do that here at NC State. As part of the NCSU chapter of the Climate Reality Project, convincing our university to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry is one of our most important goals. If you support this and want to help convince NC State to stop investing in these failing coal companies, take action with the Climate Reality Project at NCSU, and sign our petition here.