Coal and the Free Market

According to a news report in the Lexington Herald-Leader, demand for coal is down considerably in the United States. (“Coal rebounding—in Asia, November 4, 2009) The article was primarily about increase demand for metalurgical coal, which is used in steelmaking. The increase demand is primarily in China, which apparently has recovered from the recession and is starting to build again, and since construction requires steel, and certain types of coal are used in steel-making, the demand for that coal has increased.

Demand, however, is much lower in the United States. According to the article, electric companies, which are the main consumers of coal in this country, have stockpiles of coal that are 40% larger than last year. The reason for this is that there is less demand for electricity due to a relatively cool summer and the impact of the recession. Also cited is the low price of natural gas. As a result, “producers have now idled enough U.S. mines to trim about 100 million tons of coal – roughly 9 percent – from production this year.”   U.S. coal producers say that they don’t see much potential for a rebound in demand this year.

So, apparently, the demand for coal is set by the free market. And coal production is a product of demand. As demand goes down, production goes down as well. This is an important piece of information in the debate over coal and the mining of coal here in Kentucky. My impression from the general debate, and from the “friends of coal” was that all the problems in the coal fields are due to environmentalists. Clearly that is not the case. I don’t know the numbers (the article did not provide that level of detail), but it would be interesting to know if more coal jobs have been lost due to the free market, or due to environmental restrictions.  

Author: Mike

I am a patent attorney in Lexington, Kentucky. My law firm web site is I ran for State Representative in 2010 and lost in the primary. Many of these posts are based on writing that I did for that election. Rather than delete it all, I decided to dump it onto the internet.

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