Prairie Lights: Hoping for the restoration of King Coal


London, back in the good old days.

If any proof were needed that the Billings Gazette is utterly and completely out of touch with its readers, just read this unsigned editorial from a few days ago.

The headline, I’m afraid, says it all: “Montana can’t stake its future on coal.”


Ed Kemmick

This job-killing, fossil-fuel-hating editorial would have us believe that the long reign of King Coal is coming to an end at last. More astounding still is that it asks us to believe that market forces are primarily responsible for the decline of coal, not Barack Obama, commander in chief of the War on Coal.

It’s time for supporters of coal to stop pussy-footing around. We should not have to apologize for defending the magnificent black mineral that made the rise of modern civilization possible.

The Gazette even had the audacity, in the midst of its attack on coal, to cite an op-ed piece by George Will, in which Will noted that China’s demand for coal is slackening. The editorialist apparently did not see Will’s op-ed piece from December, in which he mocked the recent climate change summit in Paris and paid extravagant homage to coal, builder of nations.

Unlike George Will, the Gazette apparently thinks Obama’s Clean Power Plan is more important than Montana jobs.

So let me be the first one to propose something that no politician, in this age of rampant political correctness, would dare put forth: What we need is a Dirty Power Plan, a blueprint for massively increasing the use of coal to power the world and grow the Montana economy.

And yes, let’s call it dirty power. As I said, we don’t need to apologize for it. It’s dirty but good, rather like mud.

So, for starters, why are trains using diesel when Montana is sitting on some of the world’s largest reserves of coal? Is there a more thrilling sight in the world than a coal-powered locomotive straining up a steep grade, with an enormous column of jet-black smoke pouring from its stack?

Coal is cheap and abundant, and if every train were accompanied by a pillar of black smoke, Montana would just be that much more attractive to tourists.

We should also convert back to heating our homes with coal. Do you think it’s a coincidence that America was at the height of its prestige and power at a time when millions of Americans still had coal delivered to their basements through little windows in the sides of their houses?

Coal not only provided cheap, cozy heat. As it burned, filling the air with black smoke, the atmosphere trapped more of the sun’s heat, thus warming the ambient air.

Speaking of which, tell me whether you think it’s a coincidence that the very best literature in the history of the world emerged from major urban centers in an era when those cities were almost continuously shrouded in coal smoke. The health benefits of all that smoke might have been questionable, but I’d say a bit of coughing and rheumy eyes are a small price to pay for the novels of Charles Dickens.

Nowadays, with our cities so clean and antiseptic, with everybody wearing yoga pants, the quality of our literature is declining alarmingly. I don’t think we want the great novels of the 21st century to come exclusively out of Beijing, do we?

And of course the Gazette mentioned carbon dioxide, as if that were a real concern. My life has been a lot easier since I read, in the Wall Street Journal almost three years ago, the news that carbon dioxide is not only not bad, but by far one of the best things we could pump into the atmosphere. And this piece was written by two actual scientists, so back off climate-change propagandists.

Even if these two scientists (one of them was also an astronaut!) were somehow wrong, what of it? People, there is a downside to everything!

Worrying about carbon dioxide is such a First World problem. People never worry about anything until they have the leisure to do so, and it was coal that created our leisure.

To take just one example, for most of human history, people would have given almost anything to have access to a steady supply of bacon. Well, guess what? After coal made it possible to supply large numbers of people with that very thing, people began worrying that bacon was bad for them.

Coal has made possible the lifestyle we now take for granted. Like a rich cad trading in his trusty if less-than-gorgeous longtime companion for a trophy wife, here we are, ready to give frumpy old fossilized carbon the heave-ho and start courting those sleek, attractive wind turbines.

Fellow Montanans, join me in restoring coal to its rightful place at the top of the energy heap, as it were. To paraphrase the immortal words of Alabama governor George Wallace at another turning point in our history, “Dirty power now, dirty power forever.”

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