In the second half of the 1800s the coal country of West Virginia and Kentucky erupted in a bitter feud that took many lives and played out over multiple generations. More than a century later, the historic battle between the Hatfields and McCoys remains synonymous with misguided passion and revenge. Today the same Appalachian hills and hollows are witnessing another feud only this time the battle is being fought for what lies beneath the hills. Read on for today’s battle over coal.
Many believe that Donald Trump got elected to the U.S. Presidency because of his campaign pledge to return coal mining jobs to unemployed miners in states like West Virginia and Kentucky.
Rather than attempt to make coal cleaner Trump has taken the easier path of making the air dirtier. Last week Trump moved to kill the Clean Power Plan passed during the previous administration.
“The War On Coal Is Over”
Scott Pruitt, appointed by Trump to head the Environmental Protection Agency gleefully proclaimed in West Virginia that the rollback of the CPP means “the war on coal is over.”
Trump could not have picked a more out-spoken person to dismantle the EPA and turn back the clock on the environment. Pruitt from Oklahoma, has for decades been in the pay of the fossil fuel industry that has bankrolled his political campaigns and anti-environment initiatives, see Frontline “The War On the EPA.-
Will coal mining jobs miraculously reappear?
Seemingly, Trump would like us to believe that states like Kentucky and West Virginia are drowning in unemployed coal miners “who are oppressed because out-of-touch liberals won’t let them do the jobs that geography and God foreordained for them.” It’s a persistent myth, as reported in Ecowatch, but where’s the truth? What are the market forces that are shaping today’s coal industry; can Trump really bring back coal mining jobs and should he?
Today’s reality is that medicine and biotech are bigger than coal!
Actually, the iconic idea of the unemployed coal miner is a bit irritating to many in Appalachia where other industries are flourishing. “Coal mining is playing a smaller role in West Virginia’s economy over the last decade and over the last century,” said Ted Boettner of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
“In 2016, the health care sector employed over 99,000 people in West Virginia while coal mining employed just under 12,000.” (photo – business journals)
If Trump and Pruitt really wanted to do more than simply fulfill a misguided campaign promise to bring jobs back to Appalachia maybe they should investigate opportunities in industries that are actually growing in our current economy. Anything else is not compassion but ill-informed and disingenuous.
Terminating the Clean Power Plan will not bring coal jobs back!
Mechanization cut into coal mining jobs years ago, long before Obama initiated the Clean Power Plan. More than 228,000 people were employed in the coal industry in 1980. By July 2017, the industry employed only 50,400 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Less than half of 1% work in coal!
In Kentucky, the third-largest coal-producing state, only 5,600 were employed in coal. That’s a mere 0.28 percent of the state’s non-farm work force and its down 70% from 2008.
That same year coal-fired power plants produced approximately 50% of the country’s electricity. In contrast, today coal generates only 30% and the demand for coal continues to drop dramatically, unable to compete with cheaper natural gas and now wind and solar energy sources. These are the clear, market forces that have driven three of the largest four U.S. coal companies into bankruptcy, not the Clean Air Plan.
Builder Trump becomes Bulldozer Trump!
When you talk to Trump supporters they consistently argue that Trump’s business acumen was the reason he won their votes. Surely, Trump’s years as a builder and owner of a multi-billion $ firm could be used to revitalize American infrastructure. However, the opposite is now becoming glaringly clear. Trump’s overwhelming need to defensively react to the slightest snubs and to pick fights and bully opponents have alienated many of his political supporters.
Trump’s increasing isolation and frustration with not being able to pass his congressional programs has led him to issue endless executive orders (nearly twice the number issued by Obama). (photo – Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)
One consistency in all these executive orders seems to be a clear, desire to eradicate President Obama’s legacy, regardless of the merits of Obama’s programs. Take for example, Trump’s roll back of Obama’s childhood obesity program. How can we not, all be on the same “childhood obesity” page.
Trump’s need to get a “better deal” or simply his lack of understanding is causing irreputable harm.
Consider that Trump has decided to turn back or terminate participation in the following international treaties and domestic programs. He has plowed through with these actions often in the face of clear opposition from his White House staff, and closest military and congressional advisors and mostly without feasible alternatives in place.
Pulling out of the North American Trade Agreement NAFTA, pending
Terminating U.S./ participation in the International Iran Nuclear Agreement
The Clean Air Plan
The Affordable Health Care Act
Gutting the Endangered Species Act
Border Security and Immigration Enforcement
The Paris Climate Agreement
Baring Muslims from entering the U.S.
Removing Transgender Individuasl from the Military
Withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
Removing protected designations on numerous National Parks and Marine Protected Areas
Dramatically cutting the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency
Removing the terms Climate Change and Global Warming from government websites
Appointing fossil fuel lobbyists instead of scientists to positions at the EPA and NOAA
And the list goes on, all the way to removing bicycle racks for bicyclists near the White House
In contrast: Michael Bloomberg Donates $64 Million to Shut Down Coal Power Plants
Former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg’s charity has ear-marked $64 million to help in the retirement of coal plants in the U.S. Bloomberg announced his initiative following the Trump administration‘s recent move to kill the Clean Power Plan.
This follows on Bloomberg Philanthropies’ $110 million donation to the Sierra Club‘s Beyond Coal campaign. The aim of Beyond Coal is to help close two-thirds of U.S. coal-fired power plants by 2020.
‘The war on coal is a fight for America’s health, for our economy, our environment, and our competitive place in the world. It’s a fight we’re going to win, no matter what anybody in Washington says,’ Bloomberg said as reported in EcoWatch.
There are alternatives in the Battle Over Coal!
Obviously today’s Hatfields and McCoys should not be fighting an “either or battle”, there are alternatives to attempting to resuscitate a dying industry.
For example retraining coal miners to work in clean industries like solar and wind, could incorporate the rail infrastructure that already exists in many traditional mining areas.
After all a Museum celebrating the history of coal mining, located in the heart of Kentucky coal country has chosen to be powered by solar energy over coal. Maybe this is a lesson for all of us to heed.
Here is another option in the battle over coal: Turning Appalachia’s Mountaintop Coal Mines Into Farms is something to consider because this is happening now! It’s a win-win, simultaneously rehabilitating people and the mine ravaged landscape of coal country. This might be something today’s Hatfields and McCoys could agree on.
By Robert Frerck, Blue ocean Network
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