Isn’t Poverty Even Filthier?

A massive ad campaign has been mounted in recent weeks within the Beltway to demonize coal. The ads show some rather unlikely models posing as if harmed by coal mining — grimy faces from a cross-section of America, most of whom have never seen a coal mine. The goal is to drive coal from the nation’s energy system, a worrisome goal since over half of America’s electricity is produced by this abundant material and is projected to produce an even greater portion of electricity in the future. There is not now a more readily available and affordable energy source. The truth is that the modern coal industry is vastly safer and cleaner than in times past and is continually becoming more so.

The ads are apparently bank-rolled by natural gas producers, worried their products are becoming less competitive with coal. Only if coal is driven from the markets politically will they prosper — or so they seem to believe. That that energy might better be directed toward opening more of our great land to energy development seems never to have occurred to them. Once again, elements of American industry have armed themselves for political battle, facing inward and blasting away. Capitalism does not need external enemies — rent-seeking alone threatens the future of America.

The ads are also highly misleading, amusingly so. The world and too much of our populace remains energy poor. Poorly designed economic liberalization — freeing energy generation but refusing to free energy distribution (electricity in most areas remains a heavily regulated regional monopoly, leaving little incentive for investing in expanded smart electricity grids) has left America’s consumers vulnerable to such beggar-thy-neighbor strategies. And, one thing remains very clear — poverty, especially energy poverty, is a dirty business. In America, electricity rates are soaring as firms find themselves forced into artificial energy scarcity, with the higher rates such monopolization practices create.

And the world remains even more energy poor. One third of the world has no access to modern forms of energy use such as electricity. These people use “renewable energy’ — dung and salvaged woods. These not only threaten to deforest the poorest parts of the world — areas where much of the world’s biodiversity survives — but also mean that these people can rarely bathe or cleanse themselves. A thoughtful policy — truly concerned with cleanliness would seek to make energy even more affordable, not less. The leaders of this campaign seem heedless of the real costs of energy poverty. We hope to make them more aware with our own ad campaign in weeks to come.