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Environmentalists Propose $50 Billion Buyout of Coal Industry - To Shut It Down 712

cartechboy writes "What's $50 billion among friends, right? At least Felix Kramer and Gil Friend are thinking big, so there is that. The pair have published an somewhat audacious proposal to spend $50 billion dollars to buy up and then shut down every single private and public coal company operating in the United States. The scientific benefits: eliminating acid rain, airborne emissions, etc). The shutdown proposal includes the costs of retraining for the approximately 87,000 coal-industry workers who would lose their jobs over the proposed 10-year phaseout of coal. Since Kramer and Friend don't have $50 billion, they suggest the concept could be funded as a public service and if governments can't do it maybe some rich guys can — and the names Gates, Buffett and Bloomberg come up. Any takers?"
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Environmentalists Propose $50 Billion Buyout of Coal Industry - To Shut It Down

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  • Errr, no. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blackicye ( 760472 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:35PM (#46465789)

    This would never fly. The last 10% of the coal mines would just be laughing their way to the bank with this unexpected windfall.

  • by brainspank ( 515274 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:35PM (#46465801)

    imagine their sad faces when they realize that's what charges their electric cars.

  • Replaced by what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:36PM (#46465821) Journal

    This plan doesn't fund replacing the power from those plants with anything, just some hand waving about "renewable energy" being expanded in parallel. Cheap energy matters. The cost of everything we buy, everything we use, comes down to labor and energy costs. If you make energy more expensive everyone pays, and pays in a "regressive" way like a sales tax.

    It might still makes sense, maybe, but it will take more than hand waving.

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:37PM (#46465835) Journal
    The U.S. is just one country. Many other countries (China, for instance) are still using coal, and I think will more or less say the same thing: That's nice. We'll keep using coal. Want to be real heroes of the environment? Raise enough money to buy out the coal industry all over the world.
  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:39PM (#46465845) Homepage

    Are you still dancing on that woman's grave? Jeez, conservatives didn't celebrate this much when Joseph Freaking Stalin died.

    Didn't Hate Week sate your hatred? You know, the week after she died when you had hate parades to show just how much you hated her. No, seriously, this really happened. Hate parades.

  • by Bengie ( 1121981 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:40PM (#46465871)
    If you buy up all of the coal mines while you're at it, you'll not only drive up the price since it's all have to be imported, but the time taken to rebuild all of those plants would take quite a few years, during which time other competition would have moved in, making it much less lucrative to start a new coal power plant.
  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:40PM (#46465883) Homepage

    You have $50 billion to spend on green energy. Make your choice:
    1) Give the $50 billion to coal executives and shareholders who will then use that money to create new coal companies and open new mines, since you have done nothing to eliminate with the demand.
    2) Build $50 billion worth of green energy to put the coal companies out of business for good.

    The entire article is illogical. You can't just eliminate the laws of supply and demand.

  • by PseudoCoder ( 1642383 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:41PM (#46465911)
    Because they make US look like amateurs.
  • by Bengie ( 1121981 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:42PM (#46465927)
    Once you take in all of the external costs of coal, it is much more expensive. After a generation of no coal, we would probably see a quality of life improvement along with increased productivity and less healthcare costs, making prices drop or slow down.
  • by NatasRevol ( 731260 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:43PM (#46465947) Journal

    Well if the $50B includes buying up the lands/rights where coal is, no one else could go into coal.

    But I think $50B towards wind/solar would help replace coal more than trying to block it out.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:46PM (#46466007)

    In addition you have to replace a whole bunch of brand new highly efficient and scrubbed power stations, and totally shut down steel production.
    Metallurgic coal (coke) is essential for steel production. That pushes steel production to other countries, causing a world wide shortage, and we end up paying more and they end up polluting more.

    Coal gasification [energy.gov] projects, current and planned, would all be wiped out exactly when they are needed.

    You can't simply look at the market cap of coal industry companies on Yahoo and sum them all up.
    Like most plans, this is a simplistic and simple minded approach. It would never work

  • by PlusFiveTroll ( 754249 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:48PM (#46466043) Homepage

    There are many things that won't move on. Metallurgical coal for example. You'll drive up the price of other goods associated with the products made with it. That is ignoring that the power companies own many of the coal mines. You not only have to pay for the coal mine, but the loss of power generation directly.

    TL;DR: Article is ignorant of how the coal industry works.

  • Retraining (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:49PM (#46466055)

    The whole "retrain" workers gets me.

    Retrain them for what?

    Let's assume that all of those workers have the talent to be retrained in any field. What would that be?

    Are the billionaires also going to pay those folks to move to areas of the country that have other industries besides coal? Would the billionaires start other industries in coal country to absorb the workers?

    Retraining is just a fantasy for policy makers. Folks get retrained and find that they still can't get a job. Part of the reason is that the labor market is still really tight and employers are not willing to hire entry level people because they don't have to. There are plenty of experienced people looking.

    Anyway this "article" is nothing but a "what if" by the author; so it's not to be taken seriously.-+

  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:49PM (#46466057) Homepage Journal

    You understand the point of electric cars is to enable the changeover from fossil fuels at a systemic level, right? The car doesn't care where the energy is coming from, allowing a regulatory framework to change as pragmatic options become available.

    (My area's electricity is about 50% nuclear, 15% renewable)

  • by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:53PM (#46466121) Homepage
    These people are just like PETA, they want everything to be the land of unicorns but they dont think about what doing the change will do to the rest of the world.

    they dont think about the unintended consequences Sure lets just close down the major energy supply for most of the world, without a plan in the short term to replace it. We can all go 10-20 years without reliable electric right??
  • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:53PM (#46466123)

    Yes, but that's not War On Coal thinking. The WOC folks are attempting to use force to ensure that we funnel all our money into their pet technologies Right Quick (tm), and that this will quickly get us back up and running. And if it doesn't, then we'll just have to Conserve (tm).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:56PM (#46466159)

    Yes, it's okay to hate thatcher, if you're British. She did terrible fucking things to her own country in pursuit of an unworkable ideology. It'd be okay to hate Stalin this much if you lived under him.

    You have no idea just how stupid you sound. If you can compare Thatcher to Stalin... you have to be an idiot or totally ignorant. Not liking her policies or ideology is one thing, comparing her to one of the greatest mass murderers in history is another. Grow up. It may be the internet but it has enough ignorance without this.

  • by Rob Y. ( 110975 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @01:58PM (#46466183)

    I would assume that this idea falls under the category of 'thought experiment'. The point being to highlight that the coal industry accounts for 'only' 50 billion dollars worth of assets, which is a smaller portion of our economy and total assets than the hysteria of 'anything you do to attempt to phase out coal will destroy America' would suggest.

    Now if the country could shift to renewables for a mere 50 billion it might well be worth it. Of course, as others have pointed out, buying up all the coal plants won't accomplish that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:07PM (#46466265)

    The article is ignorant of how basic economics work.

  • Re:Errr, no. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:09PM (#46466277)

    Right - because no one could possibly think of going back to get that coal once the companies were shut down. And of course we burn coal "just because" - its not like we *did* anything with coal that was useful. I'm sure that all the rest of our industry/economy that benefited from the coal use would just ...um .... uh ...

    Oh, right. We could collapse without something to replace coal - which we currently do not have - I don't think their $50 billion covers that little problem...

    Wanting to solve environmental problems is great and I encourage people to do so. However, any "solution" which refuses to acknowledge and address the reasons why the practice/industry/whatever was started is not a "solution" at all because it will never work.

  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:15PM (#46466369)

    So long as you are honest about what is a subsidy. Business expenses being deductible is not a subsidy. Taxes on gas that are used to pave roads are not a subsidy on gas.

    Those are both examples of non-subsidies that have been called subsidies.

  • by sandbagger ( 654585 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:19PM (#46466427)

    I guess we'll be building a lot more nuclear power plants, then?

  • by bws111 ( 1216812 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:23PM (#46466483)

    What makes you (or anyone else) think this is even remotely possible? Suppose you manage to buy 10% of the coal mines, and shut them down. What do you suppose will happen to the price of the remaining mines?

    These 'ideas' (along with other laughably stupid ideas like Google 'buying' the entertainment industry) always seem to miss one important fact: nobody is required to sell at all, much less sell for some pre-determined price.

  • by Koreantoast ( 527520 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:24PM (#46466499)
    I'm REALLY curious as to what they expect to replace the coal mining business with in the middle of rural West Virginia. Even assuming you could retrain all those workers, that simply leaves an entire army of now skilled workers sitting in towns that have had their economy completely decimated by the elimination of coal. One doesn't simply regenerate a brand new, magic economy there from scratch. Even something as basic as building a new factory, say a solar panel factory, would require not just the cost of building the factory, but the infrastructure to support said factory (roads, water, power, rail links, etc.), and $50B is not going to cover the cost of doing that for 87,000 workers.
  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:29PM (#46466563)

    If you want to volunteer to go back to the dark ages yourself, go right ahead.

    Grubbing dirt out of the ground and burning it is a "dark ages" thing.

  • by udachny ( 2454394 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:30PM (#46466573) Journal

    Environmentalists Propose $50 Billion Buyout of Coal Industry - To Shut It Down

    - won't happen even if they tried, that is because once there is a rush of buying in any particular industry, the supply of the mines would be going down with this constant demand, the prices would quickly rise to many times 50 Billion. Beyond that new supply would immediately be created in order to satisfy this demand. There would be MORE coal mines, not less, because people would see it as an opportunity to make money on this sale.

    Clearly environmentalist have no clue about economics.

  • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:32PM (#46466591) Homepage

    The WOC folks are attempting to use force

    If someone offers you a pile of money for your home, and you decide to sell it, it's wild ideological nonsense to say they're taking your home by force.


  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:33PM (#46466609)
    Oh dear god. People are really framing poor old coal as a persecuted entity we've declared war on, and people are actually swallowing it? And a google search reveals you're not joking. [foxnews.com]

    I believe that people are pushing clean energy in an attempt to get rich, since that's what every industry does including coal. But I can't be more open-minded than that when you resort to such bald orwellian tactics.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:39PM (#46466675)

    TL;DR: Article is ignorant of how the coal industry works.

    These wankers are ignorant on how the whole economy works. The prices they quote are at market equilibrium, but guess what's gonna happen when there are billions of demand in the market ?

  • by Pino Grigio ( 2232472 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:41PM (#46466693)
    What a moronic comment. Her `unworkable ideology' has been the centre ground of British politics since around 1986. Even the Labour party dropped it's idiotic "ownership of the means of production" rubbish under Blair and nobody on the left, apart from the usual loons, are arguing to bring it back.

    If you want to see what a post neo-liberal political ideology looks like, go to a shop in Venezuela.
  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @02:47PM (#46466803) Homepage Journal

    I'm not going to take advice from someone who uses the term "neoliberal" to mean its literal opposite.

  • by AlphaWolf_HK ( 692722 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @03:03PM (#46466987)

    Or to be more precisely, how alternative goods/resources work.

    If you take away 37% of the supply of electricity, it will need to be replaced. This means that alternatives to coal will go up in price, and your electricity costs will go up with them. These hipsters might talk all day about saving the rainforest, but in reality they'll never go a day without their ipads and a working espresso machine.

    That would actually be a great opportunity for nuclear, however I have a feeling that these guys would hate nuclear even more than coal (I know it's stereotyping, but their type usually does and you'd be hard pressed to argue otherwise.)

    Kind of a side rant, but I'm not sure what the ultimate purpose of preventing man-made global warming is supposed to be. The best argument I've heard is to prevent the loss of landmass to rising sea water, but that's already going to happen anyways (less than 100k years ago Los Angeles was under water, and no matter what we do it will one day again be under water.) Higher global temperatures have historically resulted in more arable land rather than simple increased droughts. If you want more physical landmass, then you'll need to drop the climate to ice age levels where biodiversity actually tends to suffer. During the age of dinosaurs, the carbon dioxidie PPM was 18 times higher than it is now, biodiversity was at one of its peaks, the overall climate was 8C warmer, and plantlife was more abundant than ever. In other words, history has shown that a warmer planet is literally a more green one.

    So what kind of disaster is anti-climate change supposed to avert again?

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @03:13PM (#46467119) Homepage
    While it is true that theoretically scientifically, we have clean coal technologies available, Coal is still the dirtiest and worst of the power technologies.

    This is because of two reasons. 1) Truly clean coal technologies are expensive - more expensive than solar powered or wind power. So practically nobody uses it. and

    2) Coal companies - more than any other power industry - have found ways to avoid complying with regulations. Specifically, they campaigned hard to allow existing plants to go unregulated until after they 'modernized' in the normal course of time. Then they refused to modernize - for the past 60 years.

    Tuna fish is one of the healthiest cheap foods you can eat - or rather would be EXCEPT for the mercury in it which comes from coal. Coal burning plants are more radioactive than nuclear power plants because small bits of thorium are in coal and when you burn it, it gets wafted up into the air and settles around the coal plant. Not to mention the acid rain and the green house gas issues.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @03:44PM (#46467503)

    Storage is actually under-rated.

    The other problems of creating a grid sufficient to meet country wide needs are also underrated.

    Indeed, these problems are virtually hand-waived away by most, with the blithe assertion that the sun is shining and the wind is blowing somewhere. These folks never look at maps, and fail to notice that the earth is 3/4 covered with oceans.

    Hydro works because of storage. Coal works because of storage. Nuclear works because of storage. You can spool these up when needed, and throttle them back when not needed, storing the fuel for later.

    Wind and solar have a big problem, not because of grid technology, but simply because of lack of storage.

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @03:51PM (#46467577)

    The coal mines don't own the coal. The states do. The mines buy permits to mine it. As soon as one mine is gone, that permit is open for whomever wants to show up and take over.

    What are all the families that heat their homes with coal going to do? Are you going to buy them all new furnaces and pipe natural gas up the mountain to them? Oh, but natural gas isn't green is it? So you're going to install solar panels on their land? where does it end?

    Lastly, do you think Virginia is going to allow this at all? Shuttering their biggest industry? Not a chance in hell.

  • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmh@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @04:24PM (#46467955) Journal

    "Got it right?" Both created some temporary, unsustainable benefit but left disastrous consequences that we're still experiencing today. They're the people who cooked the goose that laid the golden eggs, and you're saying "Mmm mmm that goose sure was tasty! Cooking it was the right thing to do!"

    No, Thatcher and Reagan got it the most wrong of all. Not as wrong as Mao, but incredibly wrong by Western standards.

  • by Kilo Kilo ( 2837521 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @08:19PM (#46469819)

    The article is a summary of a larger proposal. Even in the article, they state that power generation will be transitioned to other fuels / sources, workers retrained, etc.

    There's no mention of how they plan on doing this.

    What are you going to retrain the workers to do? How are you going to "create job opportunities and prosperity for coal-based communities" ? There's nothing substantial in this article. These people think that they can replace coal overnight with unicorn farts and sunshine.

    The coal industry is bad for the environment. Yeah, we get it. However, it's a major part of the economy and one of the leading producers of electricity. While trying to transition from coal is a noble intent, there's nothing of value in this article. There isn't any plan, there isn't even a good premise.

    The article starts by saying "Would you make a one time $50 (£31) investment to save $100-500 each year?" Then it goes on to talk about the "benefits" that buying out the coal industry has. This isn't a good comparison. If I make an investment, I want a return on that investment, not some intangible benefits. If I want intangible benefits like a warm fuzzy feeling, it's called charity. Now, there's nothing wrong with charity, but TFA starts out talking about investments so now they're just misleading the reader.

    They go on to talk about coal's "dark future" and how it's a "dead end industry." Ok, so let it die. There's no need to blow $50B on a "dead end industry."

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.