It's the end of the coal business in Utah (and the world), but this funeral for coal will not be a quick cremation, so much as a slow cooking. Southern barbecue takes 12 hours. Coal may take two decades to be fully cooked. But, the smart money says you definitely can stick a fork in it—the coal business is done. According to economists, the banking industry and big investors, within 20 years, coal will be the buggy whips and IBM Selectric typewriters of the 21st century and Utahns who earned a decent living from coal production and shipment are going to be very sorry they fought against extended unemployment benefits, universal healthcare and government-paid job retraining.
Let's consider the financial facts against coal. First there is China, which today buys and burns an astounding half of the world's coal for its energy production. Now, 50 percent of anything is really a huge market. Hershey is America's largest chocolate company, but they only have 44 percent of the market. So China being 50 percent of the coal buying market is something we really need to respect. You know that big new port on the west coast we conservative taxpayers are hoping to sink $51 million into? That's so Utah can get rich sending Carbon County coal to the country we say needs all that energy from coal so it can continue stealing our manufacturing jobs.
But wait. What's this? Breaking news for 2016? China believes climate change is real and is ramping up its non-fossil energy production? Yes. China has gone all in on new wind and solar research and manufacturing. Even before bringing huge new alternative facilities on-line, they already have reversed their coal growth trend and have cut coal use by 4.5 percent since 2012. It's still at a whopping 64 percent of their electricity production, but the Chinese central government is motivated to change quickly and it doesn't have to put up with that congressional gridlock silliness. So, it is retiring coal-fired power plants right and left to fix global climate change and local air quality problems.
Also, even with all the coal it will still burn, recognize that China won't need to import our coal in the near future because it has 47 percent of the world's coal energy reserves. So, China is building infrastructure to reduce its coal use by 20 percent within six years and already owns more coal than it now needs. If you were a Wall Street investor, would Utah coal mining and shipping be where you want your money tied up? Let's ask the pros.
According to an April 23, 2016, report from Keith Williams, Wall Street Financial Analyst for the renowned investment website, SeekingAlpha.com, "The end of coal started with dramatic reductions in gas prices and environmental regulations to stop mercury and other emissions resulting from burning coal. With 26 U.S. coal bankruptcies and the Dow Jones coal sector index down 76 percent between 2009 and 2014 (with Dow Jones industrial average up 69 percent in the same period), and the last two years being even more challenging, it is clear that coal is in structural decline ... Whichever way you look at it, coal must be exited rapidly, so the coal industry must now address this. Any company suggesting that coal will recover should be avoided."
There you have it. Wall Street thinks investing in coal is stupid. Of course, that doesn't mean elected officials won't spend our 51 million conservative dollars to build a stupid port anyway. If we can agree to spend $14 million to sue America for land lawfully owned by all Americans, or argue over a pipeline to bring water from productive farmers to a desert so we can greatly increase a water-wasting, lawn-tending population, we surely can build a West Coast port we don't need, even if California will sue us.
Nor does it mean we won't continue to re-elect current big spenders to continue to do questionable things. I won't list all the questionable things Utah elected officials do. You know them already, because I read your angry posts and tweets about how, for instance, the Legislature thinks porn is a health crisis, while cannabis therapy instead of death from opioids is not.
But, take heart. I see bright daylight for our elected officials at the end of the dark coal-mine tunnel. In Alaska, state government, recognizing that fossil energy is in trouble, is providing job retraining to Alaska citizens. In Texas (Texas!), government is helping workers migrate from oil fields to become wind and solar power installers. Elected folks who see the handwriting on the wall are making intelligent mid-course corrections.
In Cottonwood Heights, the City Council has listened to constituents and utilized the proverbial eraser on a pencil. They just hired a former Salt Lake County superstar as its new public works administrator and canceled its controversial contract for snow removal and road repairs. I am so proud of these people and, if Cottonwood Heights can do it, so can the rest of Utah.
To Gov. Herbert, Senate President Niederhauser and Speaker of the House Hughes, take that $51 million deep water port money off the table before we do something that is not only damaging to our economy, but embarrassing. Use that money to set up a retraining program for our coal economy brothers and sisters. If Alaska and Texas can do it, we can, too. It's easy and popular to listen to the will of the people. If you need local help, just ask the Cottonwood Heights officials.
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