Despite What Trump Says, The Coal Industry Is Not Back

Desperate to maintain the support of a key portion of his political base, President Trump continues to tell coal miners that good times are ahead for their industry.

He repeated the lie Tuesday night at a campaign rally in Charleston, W.V., declaring: “You know what you can’t hurt? Coal. You can do whatever you want to coal. Very important. … We are back. The coal industry is back.”

ThinkProgress pointed out that coal mining “has been on an irreversible decline for years because alternatives like wind, solar and natural gas are cleaner and cheaper.” Solar farms cost less than coal plants to construct and operate, and there are already far more Americans working in the solar industry than in coal. According to the federal government's Energy Information Administration, coal extraction has declined 4.2 percent during the past year.

Trump argues that his plan to repeal air-emissions standards will help the industry recover. However, his own Environmental Protection Agency disputes the prediction. The officials expect a 20-24 percent drop in coal production for electrical power over the next seven years; 30 percent by 2035. Coal employment likely will plummet at an even greater rate due to technological advances, and an escalating shift to alternative energy sources.

The president falsely told his fans in West Virginia that the state's economy was “one of the last” before he entered office, but now “on a per-capita basis is one of the most successful GDP (gross national product) states in our union.” Commerce Department statistics show that only three states had a lower GDP in 2017 than West Virginia, where the economy expanded by just 1.3 percent in the first three months of this year.

Trump bragged that he saved the coal industry from those who wanted to retrain workers for other jobs. He was greeted with cheers when he declared: “Remember I was here just before the election and I brought a couple guys into a room and I said, 'Fellas, supposing we teach you a new skill, supposing we teach you like how to make little widgets or gidgets or gadgets.' These are big, strong coal miners. They said, 'Sir, we want to dig coal.' I said, 'I agree with you. I agree.' Right. Remember that? Their grandfathers did it, their fathers did it. It’s incredible and it’s really happening.”

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, the EPA warned that the president's proposal to replace the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan with new regulations governing electricity generation would endanger public health and rob the economy. Obama's initiative was designed to reduce emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases, the primary cause of climate change.

Trump's so-called “Affordable Clean Energy Plan” would instead leave it up to power-plant operators to make voluntary improvements. That would result in tens of thousands of deaths and millions of illnesses, according to the EPA's recently published Regulatory Impact Analysis.

The agency projected that by 2030, 1,400 additional people would be dying each year from airborne particulates and the annual number of asthma cases would soar by 120,000. The dire predictions are actually not as bad as the 4,500 additional premature deaths per year that the EPA suggested in October 2017.

The latest analysis warns that if Trump gets his way, economic losses will total nearly $4 billion annually from 2023-37. When expenses related to deaths, illnesses, work absences, lower productivity and accelerated climate change are factored into the equation, the total cost to the economy could top $50 billion.

Some of the president's critics are accusing him of risking lives and taxpayers' money to prop up a dying industry for political purposes. His Affordable Clean Energy Rule would be a financial boon to the coal companies that are among Trump's campaign contributors.

Environmentalists and scientists are virtually united in opposing the new rule. They call it the “Wheeler-Pruitt Dirty Power Plan,” referring to the two EPA administrators the president has appointed. The first agency chief, Scott Pruitt, got the job despite his past calls to abolish the EPA. He recently resigned due to multiple ethics allegations. The current administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal-industry lobbyist.

The proposed rule would “keep dirty coal plants online longer, dump millions of tons of planet-warming pollution into the atmosphere, and slow the transition of the power sector to clean, renewable energy,” according to Earthjustice. The nonprofit environmental group's president, Trip Van Noppen, said Trump's “misguided proposal would wreak havoc on communities.”

He explained: “First, fossil fuel interests won’t have to make the big cuts in climate-altering carbon pollution that the Obama-era plan would require, exacerbating the destructive impacts of climate change. Second, polluters can avoid making the large, life-saving reductions in smog and soot pollution that the (Obama) plan would have achieved.”

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