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Clash of the Coal and Renewable Titans


The coal market may be starting to finally turn the corner. Prices for some seaborne coking coals shipping from Australia to Japan have eclipsed the $200/ton level again (See World News). Similarly, prices for Powder River Basin (PRB) coals have improved as coal-fired power plants burn through stocks and natural gas prices increase. With widespread devastation throughout the coalfields, any positive news is welcomed.

The coal industry scored a major victory recently, thanks to the diligence of Robert E. Murray and his team. He and his company have filed multiple lawsuits against the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. A judge ruled in favor of Murray saying that the EPA did not follow the regulations that stipulate the agency must properly consider the financial impacts of its regulatory policy before it moves forward with them.

Appearing on CNBC’s Morning Squawk, Murray shared his feelings about current energy policy. He highlighted the fact that American taxpayers are subsidizing windmills and solar panels and said that he would like to see a level playing field with similar subsidies for clean coal technology. Then he fired a shot at Tesla, calling it a fraud and saying that the green carmaker “has gotten $2 billion from the taxpayer,” and “has not made a penny yet in cash flow.”

That caught Telsa CEO Elon Musk’s attention, who responded quickly on Twitter, saying the “real fraud going on is denial of climate science.” He added that Tesla receives far less in subsidies than the coal industry, asking Bob, “How about we both go to zero?,” referring to carbon emissions. The exchange created quite a stir among environmental activists with thousands of posts and Tweets highlighting how the renewable champion Musk had put the coal baron in his place.

NBC and MSNBC lean way left and both of the outlets had lost a lot of credibility prior to this election cycle. CNBC, however, acts as the adult in the room (or the NBC tower), often correcting reporting from its sister outlets with factual information. As the rhetoric related to Musk and Murray was heating up, CNBC brought a dose of reality. It noted Musk’s claim, did some fact-checking, and found that the renewable energy industry receives far more subsidies than the coal business. Energy production from coal received roughly $1 billion from federal programs and other tax benefits in 2013, according to CNBC, while green tech companies, such as Solar City and Tesla, received more than $15 billion that same year in funding from the same programs. Billionaire Musk is chairman of both Solar City and Tesla, which are not meeting investor’s expectations.

At a time when many coal operators are fighting for their lives, reorganizing under bankruptcy and seriously considering capitulation on the climate debate and the “war on coal,” Murray and his team are slugging it out in a street fight with environmental activists, trying to debunk a well-funded, but misguided movement that few outside the energy understand. They have also scored a victory against the EPA from which the entire coal industry will benefit as well as many other industries suffering from regulatory overreach. Thank you, Bob.