In the 1970s the ads focused on foreign oil producers, in the 1980s they fought acid rain regulation, and over the last decade they've claimed coal has in fact been "cleaned." Coal also competes in Washington. A report in the Motley Fool estimates the industry's lobbying budget at $17 million a year. But it hasn't worked. Patriot Coal has declared bankruptcy. Of the other industry players only Consol Energy ( CNX), which also produces natural gas, is near break-even.
The rest -- Alpha Natural Resources ( ANR), Arch Coal ( ACI), and Peabody Energy ( BTU) -- are all down at least 35% year to date. There are ways to reduce coal's carbon cost, by turning it into a slurry, as Wikipedia explains, and Pakistan is among the markets trying this, writes PakObserver. But that just reduces the carbon cost, it doesn't get rid of it. For that, you'll want to go to Kemper County, Miss., where Southern Co. ( SO) has put $4.3 billion, some of that government money, into turning low-grade coal into gas and selling the carbon dioxide to oil drillers for use in fracking.
The plant is due to be completed next May, but the head of the unit building the plant has just retired, amid cost concerns, The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports, quoting The Wall Street Journal. This has industry advocates like Larry Bell, writing for Forbes, livid and unintentionally funny. He's upset that the Administration went along with the Kemper experiment, noting that it makes coal uncompetitive, but eventually he gets back on track by attacking the science of climate change.