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Six coal industry articles to get you up to speed

July 13, 2017

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There's been plenty of talk about the coal industry of late. These articles will get business reporters up to speed on the industry. ("Industry" image by stafichukanatoly via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)
There's been plenty of talk about the coal industry of late. These articles will get business reporters up to speed on the industry. ("Industry" image by stafichukanatoly via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)

You’ve been hearing about it a lot lately: coal.

But how much do you actually know about this industry? For years, reports have documented its decline. Now there’s talk about returning the industry to its former glory. Is that even possible? For that matter, how many people work in coal mining in 2017?

Coal can be a tricky subject to jump on right away but there are plenty of stories to be told. Want to cover the industry yourself but don’t know where to start? Here are six articles to get you up-to-date on what’s going on in the coal world.

Quick coal backgrounder 

Publication: Los Angeles Times

Here is a short, clear and to-the-point piece from the LA Times. You only have an hour until deadline? This is what you need. It succinctly describes the current coal situation and how President Trump really has no control over it despite his claims of bringing it back.

Reporter’s Takeaway: When reporting stories, don’t pretend the coal industry can easily make a resurgence. If a source claims that removing regulations is all coal needs for a resurgence, push back.

Expert thoughts on coal’s long decline

Publication: The New York Times

If your deadline isn’t quite so crunched and you want a meatier take, here you go. Granted, this is an opinion piece but it’s written by Michael Webber, the deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, and author of “Thirst for Power: Energy, Water and Human Survival.” Written while Trump was still the president-elect, Webber clearly lays out the history of coal’s decline (it started in the 80s), the factors that led to it (I’ll take “Cheap Gas” for $500) and why it likely won’t come back (suggesting market intervention to Republicans tends to go poorly).

Reporter’s Takeaway: This piece mentions that natural gas producers are the primary beneficiaries of clean air and low carbon regulations so will likely lead the charge against their removal. As an example, Webber cites Exxon Mobil, whose former CEO Rex Tillerson, is Trump’s Secretary of State. It will be interesting to see whether Tillerson will have any influence over Trump’s policy. Additionally, this opinion piece mentions how renewable subsidies are set to expire soon. How is that going to affect the growth of renewables in your region? Hint: It will probably stall.

Example of local impact 

Publication: Casper Star Tribune

Okay, that was all nice cloud-level stuff but what’s happening on the ground? Let’s turn to regional publications for this. Several large and new coal plants are shuttering across the nation, startling news for coal country, as explored by Wyoming’s Casper Star Tribune. Although this takes a Wyoming angle, the market forces at play are the same for all of coal country.

Reporter’s Takeaway: Are there closures in your region? Does your area rely on power from these closing plants? How much does your state actually rely on coal?

Unintended consequences for workers

Publication: NPR

Trump says he’s blocking President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan so he can help save coal country. But as this piece explores, that may have unintended consequences. Seems like the Clean Power Plan already had a transition plan to assist coal workers losing their jobs. That’s been pulled out from under coal country’s feet.

Reporter’s Takeaway: Are there transition plans underway in your region? If you’re in a small town dependent on coal, is there a plan to save it as the flagship industry dies?

Putting the numbers in context

Publication: The Washington Post

It’s always important to place numbers in context. Obviously, the nation’s energy supply is important. But for all this talk about coal, we’re really only talking about 76,572 jobs as of 2014. For comparison, travel agencies employ 99,888 people and Arby’s employs close to 80,000 workers.

Reporter’s Takeaway: How big is the coal industry in your state? Could you fit the entire coal industry into your state’s football stadium?

Troubled times for nuclear, too

Publication: The New York Times

It’s not just coal that’s hit the dumps. Nuclear power plants are starting to shut down, as well, and those are a key source of the nation’s clean energy. What do experts think will replace the gap left by nuclear? Coal. (And natural gas, too). This may result in an unforseen twist.

Reporter’s Takeaway: How does nuclear look vs. coal in your state? Are nuclear workers similarly vocal about their future?


  • Danika Worthington

    Danika is a journalist based out of Denver who currently works at The Denver Post as a digital strategist. Danika has covered stories with international interests, localized national stories, and executed a profile series on a local LGBTQ community t...

    View all posts

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