Picking Winners and Losers

I agree 100 percent with some of my friends, liberal and conservative alike, who have been objecting during the past few days that the government should not be picking winners and losers in the private sector.

But where have you been for the past few decades, especially the past nine years?

Let’s review:

It was all right with the liberals — in fact, it was positively mandatory — for former President Barack Obama to pick winners and losers in the energy sector, during his campaign against the coal industry and affordable electricity.

And long before that, under both Republican and Democrat presidents, is was just fine that U.S. steel and aluminum producers were consigned to the “loser” category to avoid annoying some foreign leaders.

This new round of “stay out of the private sector” was provoked by two of President Donald Trump’s initiatives.

First, of course, was his declaration that the Obama war on coal is over. Now, the liberals are positively apoplectic at the thought Trump may intervene actively to preserve coal-fired power plants.

Late last month, Trump instructed Energy Secretary Rick Perry to come up with a plan to save some “fuel-secure” power plants in danger of being shut down. He has coal-fired and nuclear generating stations in mind.

Trump has the power to take such action, in the name of national security. Precisely what he would do to keep some power plants open is in question.

In some way, however, he would have to interfere with private sector plans for generating stations that have been mothballed on their way to closure.

So Trump would pick winners in the energy sector.

Why? Because Obama played both sides of the game.

He designated coal and power plants fueled by it as losers. He did everything to destroy the coal industry, ranging from air pollution rules intended to make coal-fired electricity prohibitively expensive to regulations meant to wreck mining.

Then, he specified “alternative” energy would be winners, with massive federal subsidies — billions of dollars — for solar and wind projects. Remember Solyndra? That cost you and me $535 million and the company still went bankrupt.

Icing on the cake for Obama was slashing funds for clean coal technology in an attempt to make it impossible for that fuel to compete.

Meanwhile, electricity prices have gone up. Here in West Virginia, they have skyrocketed by 62 percent since 2008, when Obama took office.

Understand this about utilities: Their executives don’t care ­how electricity is generated. Even if they have to switch to more expensive technology, state public service commissions usually will allow them to recover that cost, plus add a profit.

So yes, Trump may be designating coal as a winner — but only because Obama hit it with the double whammy of trying to kill it while spoon-feeding its competition.

Trump also has announced the United States will collect new tariffs on some imported steel and aluminum. That, too is picking winners — domestic producers of those metals.

But for decades, little or nothing was done about unfair trade practices engaged in by some foreign steel and aluminum manufacturers and their governments. No one in Washington wanted to upset the Japanese, Germans and others involved in that competition.

And remember, many U.S. mills closed because their equipment was obsolete and they couldn’t compete with newer foreign mills. That began during the 1970s.

Guess whose money helped build some of those foreign mills after their predecessors were destroyed during World War II. Yep. You, me and our parents and grandparents.

There again, government helped make foreign competitors winners, while consigning American steel and aluminum companies to the loser bin.

An did I mention that some U.S. aluminum mills closed because electricity prices increased too much — in part, at least, because of Obama-era policies?

So yes, by all means, let’s talk about government picking winners and losers.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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