West Virginia’s governor last week changed his party affiliation to Republican from Democrat. But the new letter next to Jim Justice’s name hasn’t sated his appetite for government subsidies.
Gov. Justice revealed this week that he has asked the Trump administration for $4.5 billion in annual federal help in order to prop up Appalachian coal mining operations. The governor prefers not use the term “handout,” of course. Instead, he insisted that the money is a “home-land security incentive” designed to protect the nation’s energy supply.
Under the plan, the Wall Street Journal reported, taxpayers would pay Eastern power plants $15 for each ton of thermal coal they buy from mining operations in parts of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“The survivability of the Eastern coalfields is very, very iffy,” Gov. Justice argued. “And if you lose the Eastern coalfields, you are putting the country at risk beyond belief.”
In fact, the governor’s proposal has little to do with national security — the nation’s domestic production is at all-time highs — and everything to do with pure protectionism.
Yes, the Obama administration sought to put coal miners out of business with a punishing slew of regulations intended to placate progressive greens. But Mr. Trump has already begun to roll back many of those draconian edicts, helping to stabilize the industry. The more pressing issue for Appalachian coal mining interests is that they have been overtaken in the marketplace.
Advances in technology, such as fracking, have led to a glut of cheap natural gas that has made the coal industry less competitive. The price of renewables has dropped significantly. And coal producers in less-unionized states in the West — Wyoming, for instance — are able to extract the substance at a cheaper rate than their counterparts in West Virginia and environs.
Given that renewable energy producers continue to receive billions in direct federal handouts each year, Gov. Justice’s frustration may be understandable. But his remedy is counterproductive and fiscally irresponsible. Rather than showering billions in taxpayer largess on Eastern coal producers, Congress should clear out the regulatory thicket, end corporate welfare for the energy industry and let the marketplace sort things out.