The American public has an insatiable demand for cheap energy, and we're going to go with what comes the cheapest. Now, you could argue that if the government lifted ALL regulations on the coal industry, coal would still be cheaper, but that would mean returning to a time when deadly mine collapses like the Upper Big Branch disaster were a regular occurrence, and deaths from Black Lung Disease would destroy the region's people. No one wants that. In fact, I would argue that if the industry suddenly reverted to what mines used to be like, fewer miners would be willing to go underground. The other reality is that coal is a limited natural resource, and we are running out. So, even if we upped demand and mines started producing at top levels again, we'd just deplete that resource even faster and hasten the full collapse of the industry. Fewer regulations ain't gonna save coal.
Even with those regulations in place, many miners would prefer to have some other line of work available to them. Many miners do not want to be destroying their land and their people through MTR but choose to do so because of lack of viable options in the region. Even those miners you see at protests and rallies are often less impassioned than they appear. The Time article describes a common occurrence among mine owners like Murray:
When Vice President Joe Biden visited the county in May, Murray's general manager recruited teams off the graveyard shift to protest in their hard hats. And when Mitt Romney came through in mid-August, Murray closed his mines and told his employees to attend a Romney rally, at which Murray provided hot dogs, soda pop and a magician to entertain their kids. (30)Time reports this paragraph without commentary, but I was suspicious. This has been happening for years. Since the mine wars of the 1920s, owner/operators have made it clear to miners: they can support mine politics or pay the price. But that kind of thing doesn't happen today, right? ThinkProgress reports on this event, indicating miners were mandated to attend this rally - WITHOUT PAY. Even those folks that vocally agree with the "War on Coal" often do so because any decline in the industry means near-destruction of their communities. It's like the opposite of NIMBY.
But the miners are not the ones profiting from coal; they are merely surviving in a place they dearly love and want to remain in. The ones profiting are the owners, and they are also the ones funding the "War on Coal" ad campaigns. Time reports that the CEO of Alliance Resource Partners has given $2.6 million to anti-Obama ad campaigns; Alpha Natural Resources (formerly Massey) has given $600,000, and Murray himself has given almost $1 million (according to this site). Overall, the coal mining industry has given $8.7 million to this election cycle (almost all to Republican campaigns). I'm pretty sure most miners do not have an extra $8.7 million to contribute to campaigns. So, even though the industry is declining and miners are losing their jobs, the owners are not seeing a financial decline themselves. Those same owners are the ones diversifying their holdings so that when (not if) coal collapses, they will be just fine. Again, it is only those destroyed communities that have no options to diversify.
Obama may have a War on Coal, and some of us are glad he does. But Murray's attempt to define his efforts as being motivated by "preserving the livelihoods of his workers from the "Hollywood" characters, unionists and wealthy elitists" must be seen for the lie that it is. Murray wants to preserve the coal industry; but if he can't (and "these malls will be empty" as he says), he won't be there looking for work with the unemployed miners. If he really cared about the livelihoods of his workers, he would be working to diversify the economy of the region, giving residents an actual choice in where they work and who they vote for.