Just five years ago, the American coal industry was looking strong. Business was good. Opponents of climate change regulation had kept a Democratic-controlled legislature from enacting meaningful carbon-reduction legislation. With renewable energy in its infancy, nuclear power plant construction stalled, and due to the higher cost of natural gas, there was no immediate alternative on the horizon to replace the dirtiest fossil fuel.
But times have changed, and the market value of coal companies has collapsed. The four largest coal companies were worth a combined $21.7 billion dollars in June 2010. Now they’re worth $1.2 billion. Two other large coal concerns, Patriot and James River, have both filed for bankruptcy in recent years. And one market analyst told the Financial Times in February to expect “multiple bankruptcies in US coal over the next 12-18 months.”