US coal dying. President Barack Obama’s latest toughening of pollution rules governing America’s power industry grabbed the headlines overnight. Only hours before, Alpha Natural Resources went bust with US$7.11 billion in liabilities (and has lost money for the past 14 quarters in a row). Alpha is America’s second-biggest coal miner, with 50 mines across the US Midwest and Appalachian regions. It is second only to Peabody Energy, which last week cut 550 jobs and revealed $1 billion dollar-plus loss and write-down because of weak demand for coal and falling prices in the US and export markets (not "new" news in Australia).

Alpha blamed its bankruptcy on tougher regulatory standards and policies that favour renewable energy, as well the weakening prices for its coal. The big driver of the slide in US coal prices has been the rising use of cheaper gas (natural and shale based) in power stations and other consumers. -- Glenn Dyer