Everyone will be saying "'told you so" after Arch Coal's announcement last week of 750 lay-offs in Kentucky and West Virginia.
Some will claim vindication for their anti-regulation warnings. Others will see confirmation that the region must free itself from coal's yoke and diversify economically to prepare for the industry's inevitable decline in Appalachia.
Almost all of Kentucky's political leaders belong to the first camp. Republicans were especially eager to scapegoat a Democratic president and his Environmental Protection Agency. But, like buggy whip-makers foaming at Henry Ford, Kentucky Democrats also heaped bile on the regulation bogeyman.
They're all sputtering against the tide, as a U.S. Senate vote last week makes clear.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, decrying what he called President Barack Obama's "war on jobs," advocated blocking stricter toxic emission standards for coal-fired power plants and other industries.
The Senate then supported the standards 53-46 in a vote that did not break along party lines or even unite coal state lawmakers. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia both supported the regulations, which will reduce the presence of the powerful neurotoxin mercury in the environment.
In a speech before the vote, Rockefeller took those who run the coal industry to task, saying they would "rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions." Sadly, his criticism applies just as well to most of Kentucky's elected officials.
Rockefeller said the industry's "all or nothing" approach to environmental issues has blocked meaningful support for "clean coal" and carbon-reduction technologies.
Likewise, in Kentucky, even talking about alternative sources of energy or jobs is viewed as disloyal to coal. "The bitterness of the fight has taken on more importance than any potential solutions," said Rockefeller, himself a long-time friend of the bituminous rock.
"It's important to be truthful to miners that coal plants will close because of decisions made by corporate boards long ago," he said, "not just because of EPA regulations, but because the plants are no longer economical as utilities build low-emission natural gas plants." Indeed, the coal industry is suffering more from market forces and aging power plants than the EPA.
Rockefeller decried the "narrow thinking that moves us backward, declaring that we should somehow turn back the clock, ignore the present and block the future."
Truth is, Americans want clean air and water; they want their children safe from environmental toxins. EPA regulations flow from laws enacted by Congress and signed by presidents of both parties. In recent years, federal courts have ordered the EPA to implement stronger regulations to comply with Congress' will.
"Friends of coal" has always had a curious ring since a rock can't reciprocate friendship. The hills of Appalachia, where the coal industry has reigned over this country's deepest poverty for 100 years, are full of people and places who really do need friends. They also need leaders who, like the senator from West Virginia, respect them enough to tell the truth.