The Political 'hangover' of Coal in US Appalachia: Maintaining and Disguising Power Via the Multi-Layered Subsidiary Firm

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 13:00
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Paul GELLERT, University of Tennessee, USA
How are we to understand the political power of the coal sector in the Appalachian coal-producing states of the United States? In this paper, I argue that there is a political ‘hangover’ of the coal sector that is lasting far longer than the period of objective economic importance of the sector. Economic data demonstrate a decline in coal’s importance in the eastern US (Appalachia) fields over the last quarter century as western US coalfields were opened and natural gas fracturing boomed in the Appalachian region. Yet, the hegemonic ideological hold of coal has not abated. It is reflected, moreover, in state and national level politics of defending the coal sector against a so-called ‘war on coal.’ This paper will address how a sector in decline both (i) persists in holding onto its political power and also (ii) disguises its impacts and protects its corporate power. Both exist despite, or in reaction to, various threats, such as from anti-MTR (mountain top removal mining) activists and the Sierra Club’s “beyond coal” campaign to shut coal-fired power plants, as well as the recent bankruptcies of numerous large coal corporations as the global price boom ended. The methodological approach of the paper builds on Prechel’s analysis of the multi-layered subsidiary firm (MLSF). Using data from the Wharton Research Data Services (WRDS) and other databases, the paper will examine corporate ownership of coal corporations in the US. In addition, I will trace the declining importance of coal to county-level government budgets via severance taxes. This ownership and government revenue data will be juxtaposed to other indicators of the political power of the coal sector especially in local and state politics in the US.