Cumberland Times-News


June 9, 2014

Choosing sides

‘War on coal’ creates some odd alliances

— The American essayist, novelist and editor Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900), who by the way was a friend of Mark Twain, coined the saying that “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

It’s another way of saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” (a version of which dates to the fourth century B.C., with its first appearance in English coming sometime in the 1880s).

Both expressions could be applied to the current furor over the so-called “war on coal,” which has grown in ferocity since the federal government extended its crackdown on carbon emissions by announcing strict limitations on coal-fired power plants.

Some Republicans and Democrats who would otherwise be at odds on most issues are now joining forces to oppose the new limitations, or at least to defend the coal industry (which contributes substantial funding to their campaign “war chests”).

That’s because they represent coal-producing areas such as Kentucky and West Virginia, whose economies depend in large part upon the coal industry, which already has lost thousands of jobs and stands to lose thousands more.

However, according to a recent Washington Post/ ABC News poll, a bipartisan national majority of Americans supports limiting the greenhouse gases that many scientists blame for climate change.

Those of us who are reasonable want to see a cleaner climate, but two questions arise: “How do we accomplish this?” and “At what cost?”

America’s industries, transportation and power generation are so much cleaner now than they were 50 years ago that the transformation almost seems miraculous. We have ideas on how to clean up the country even more, but there are limitations on the technology, not to mention the expense that would be incurred.

At their current state of development, such things as solar panels and wind power generators can only do so much, and not everyone can afford to buy a new automobile that’s powered by electricity, hydrogen or a hybrid system.

To replace all of our current industrial or power-generating assets with cleaner technology would be hideously expensive and could take decades.

There also is the issue of jobs that would be lost versus those that would be created, where it would happen and whom it would affect.

As to whether one supports or opposes coal, we are reminded of another old saying that is attributed to Martin Luther, who in 1521 paraphrased Exodus 21: 28-30 when he said:

“It all depends on whose ox is being gored.”

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