Foreign Unrest Raises Energy Worries, but Media Put Down Coal

-The coal industry not only gets attacked by the media for being a "dirty" fossil fuel, it rarely gets positive coverage because the networks focus on disasters. Since Jan. 1, 2010, nearly 80 percent of the broadcast network stories about coal were related to tragic mining accidents. Only 14 percent of stories mentioned coal in any context other than a mine disaster or natural disaster that affected mining.

-On Jan. 13, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency took the unprecedented step of revoking a water permit from Arch Coal's Spruce Mine No. 1. That was in line with President Obama's threats to "bankrupt" the coal industry and a "virtual moratorium" on coal permitting, yet the networks didn't mention it in a single story.

With the recent unrest in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the Mideast, there is reason to be concerned about energy security and rising prices right now. If turmoil were to spread in the oil-rich region, energy prices could spike further.

During the first week of February, oil prices rose to the highest level since October 2008 because of Egypt concerns, according to In the U.S., the national average for unleaded gasoline has been above $3-a-gallon since late December (Dec. 23). Egypt produces 660,000 barrels of oil per day according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA), and 4.5 percent of the world's oil travels through its Suez Canal.

Although Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has said he will not resign, the possibility the Muslim Brotherhood may take control of the country is still a concern and energy security and prices on are the minds of many.

One way that has been proposed to lessen foreign oil's grip on the U.S. would be electric and hybrid cars, something U.S. politicians and news media have supported. As far back as 2008, ABC's Chris Cuomo jumped on the hybrid bandwagon saying, "Everybody's trying to sell their SUV, want to get into one of these new jobs, you know, the smart car, the hybrid, the high-mileage type vehicles, all these alternative cars."

Yet, the media don't seem to realize that electric cars would be powered mostly by coal, a fuel the media and Obama administration have portrayed as a "dirty" and unsafe form of energy.

With its vast supplies, "The U.S. is, after all, the Saudi Arabia of coal," Time magazine wrote in 2006.

The U.S. has enough coal to last well over 200 years. According to the National Mining Association (NMA), half of U.S. electricity comes from coal and coal fuels 23 percent of total U.S. energy consumption.

The mainstream news media often given coal a bad name, literally, calling it the "dirtiest fuel on earth," "dangerous" and "polluting." Of course the primary reason for those attacks is that coal is a fossil fuel, which the media have long campaigned against in the name of global warming alarmism.

But what the network rarely reports is how necessary coal power is for the U.S., that it provides high paying jobs in rural areas, and that it has been getting safer. According to National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich the U.S. coal mining industry has cut fatal injuries by two-thirds in the past 18 years. It has also gotten cleaner; he said that since 1980 U.S. power plants have reduced "criteria pollutants" regulated by the Clean Air Act by more than 50 percent.

Despite that record, the network news media focused on the coal industry almost exclusively when a tragedy occurs, such as the April 2010 mine explosion that took 29 lives. While such disasters are worthy of attention, it is unfair of the networks to also ignore the necessity of the industry and the benefits coal brings to mining communities' economies and to the country as a whole by supplying a stable domestic source of energy production.

The Business & Media Institute analyzed 235 broadcast network news reports that mentioned coal in reference to coal mining, energy from coal or the coal industry between Jan. 1, 2010 and Jan. 31, 2011. BMI found that 79.5 percent (187) of those stories were focused on a mining accident or some other coal-related disaster.

An additional 6 percent of stories (15) were related to natural disasters that affected coal mining (such as flooding in China that trapped hundreds of miners underground). A mere 14 percent of the stories (33) discussed coal in any other context, and many of those were negative mentions of the industry.

Obama Wants to 'Bankrupt' Industry, EPA Revokes Permit; Networks Silent

Even before taking office, Obama made his anti-coal views known and in the past year his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken action against the coal industry, costing jobs and business investments.

On Jan. 13, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revoked a 4-year-old clean water permit from Arch Coal's Spruce Mine No. 1 located in West Virginia. Investor's Business Daily (IBD) noted in a Jan. 19, 2011 editorial that Arch Coal "followed every jot and tittle of the rules it was to operate under." The company also invested $250 million in that particular mine project.

IBD called this permit revocation part of "Obama's War on Coal," and noted that "it matters not even if you follow the rules" because the EPA action proves "rules can be changed on the fly."

The EPA decision was a clear attack on the coal industry and in line with President Obama's anti-coal sentiments. He has threatened to bankrupt the industry with cap-and-trade legislation. In a January 2008 interview, Obama said: "So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."

You'd think with all of Obama's rhetoric about wanting to create jobs, the EPA action and its direct consequences on employment in one West Virginia community might have gotten some attention. But not from the network news media. Not a single network news story BMI analyzed mentioned it, despite what Popovich called the EPA's "virtual moratorium" on Appalachia mining permits that began in April 2010.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., told MetroNews Talkline that the EPA "has crossed the line" by revoking the Spruce Mine permit and warned that "it just sends a very chilling effect upon any company that is currently negotiating, in good faith, with the EPA to obtain a permit for a worthwhile project." And both of the state's Democratic senators, Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, criticized the EPA decision.

Manchin noted the economic consequences saying, "While the EPA decision hurts West Virginia today, it has negative ramifications for every state in our nation, and I strongly urge every Senator and every member of Congress to voice their opposition."

According to The New York Times, "It was the first time the agency has rescinded a valid clean water permit for a coal mine" and something the agency had only done twice to any operation in 40 years.

"They've made coal the example and are pointing a gun at all these [mining] operations despite the fact that they're in compliance with the law," Popovich told the Business & Media Institute.

The Times and IBD reported that the action blocks 250 jobs. As an industry, coal mining directly employs 134,000 and will need to expand in years to come to meet additional demand, according to NMA. The NMA also estimates that 3.5 more jobs are created in the economy for each coal mining job.

Popovich also warned that by revoking the water permit for Spruce Mine the EPA was setting a precedent that could potentially affect more than just coal mining. "Any industry that uses a section 404 permit under the Clean Water Act," including construction, road building and others, could be impacted, he said.

Yet, the networks have simply ignored the administration's controversial attack on a U.S. industry.

Networks Provide Tragic Distortion of Coal Industry

By devoting nearly 80 percent of its coal coverage to disasters and tragedy, the networks drew a sad and scary picture of the industry for their viewers.

Even when an accident in Hungary was unrelated to coal, ABC "World News" found a way to show the U.S. coal industry in a negative light. Jim Sciutto told viewers on Oct. 5, 2010, the chemical sludge spill in Hungary was "eerily reminiscent of a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee on Christmas Eve in 2008."

Just as the media mostly failed to do when covering that spill, Sciutto didn't remind viewers that the Tennessee spill was a government-created 'toxic mess' because the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is federally owned.

Mine disaster coverage dominated the networks' coverage of coal. Only 14 percent of the stories about coal were unrelated to such a tragedy. And despite the fact that coal power is responsible for half the electricity production in the U.S., just 2 percent (5) of the total stories emphasized the domestic need for coal power. Even those weren't necessarily positive mentions.

"Good Morning America" was critical of coal on July 15, 2010, although they admitted much of U.S. electricity is supplied by coal. In a segment about "green grilling," author Catherine Zandonella pointed out that electric grills are as green as people might think because so much of our electricity comes from coal.

Coal was criticized in a Nov. 18, 2010 "Nightly News" story about natural gas exploration and called "the dirtiest form of energy" by CBS correspondent Celia Hatton March 9, 2010.

Popovich told BMI that coal is "vital," to U.S. energy because "more than any other industrial country we rely on coal to generate our electricity … it's essential for steel making. And without steel and electric power you're not even a third tier country."

History of Anti-Coal Bias by Networks, Other Media

Sadly, the networks and many other media outlets have provided an anti-coal perspective for years whether criticizing the entire industry for a government-owned utility's "toxic mess," or attacking the fossil fuel on the basis of global warming.

CBS's Lesley Stahl crusaded against "the industry" on Aug. 15, 2010, complaining that the EPA hadn't declared coal ash a hazardous waste. Stahl revisited the TVA coal ash spill that was 100 times larger than the Exxon Valdez, but failed to say that the TVA is a public (federally owned) utility.

The media have also sided with environmentalists rather than industry despite much needed power. NBC's chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson thought it was a bad idea for Ely, Nev. to build coal-fired power plant despite the need for more energy and the jobs it would provide to the community.

"Critics say emissions are exactly the issue, because coal-fired power is the nation's biggest producer of CO2 emissions," Thompson said. The plant would have been a shot in the arm for the Nevada economy and specifically Ely, which had a higher than average number of families below the poverty at the time.

The New York Times favored climate alarmism over "clean coal" on April 23, 2008, warning about Italy's return to coal power. The Times called the plan "dangerous" and quoted environmentalists' criticism.

"They [environmentalists] are aghast at the renaissance of coal, a fuel more commonly associated with the sooty factories of Dickens's novels and one that was on its way out just a decade ago."

One such environmentalist, Jeff Goodell, has been cited frequently as a coal expert by the media even though he had no formal expertise in the coal business. But since he wrote a book attacking the coal industry, the media turns to him often on the issue of coal mining and energy.


The Business & Media Institute pulled transcripts for every broadcast network story mentioning coal between Jan. 1, 2010, and Jan. 31, 2011. The 235 stories included in our findings were substantive mentions of coal mining, the coal industry or energy from coal.

BMI did not analyze stories in which coal was part of a casual expression (canary in the coal mine), part of someone's background (Kate Middleton's ancestry) or other instances unrelated to the coal industry (cooking segments, mentions of hot coals, etc).