Trump’s Failed Promises to Coal Country Can’t Go Unchecked

During his 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump promised to reopen coal mines and expressed to coal communities that he was their last shot at reviving the ailing industry. After the media drastically twisted Hillary Clinton’s comments about a just transition for coal miners, Trump was able to paint himself as a savior for struggling rural communities.

Coal country overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump and has spent the past four years waiting for him to save the coal industry to no avail.

Why This Matters: This Thursday’s presidential debate will feature a question on climate change, and it’s important that Joe Biden continues to tout the job-creating focus of his climate plan. It’s not wise to give America its medicine during a campaign but the fact of the matter is, coal is not coming back but we can become a nation that helps workers instead of merely supporting the financial markets reliant upon their labor, which is a winning message.

If Trump grandstands on the basis of his “job creation” Biden should point to his dismally failed promises to take care of coal country.

It’s Not Looking Good: As Fred Pearce wrote for Yale E360 earlier this spring,

Coal is declining sharply, as financiers and insurance companies abandon the industry in the face of shrinking demand, pressure from climate campaigners, and competition from cleaner fuels. After years of its predicted demise, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel may finally be on the way out.

That’s the grim reality for the future of coal, something that was also echoed by the International Energy Agency’s 2020 World Outlook report.

The Politics Of It: Discussing the end of the coal industry is a difficult predicament for a Democratic presidential nominee. No one wants to tell hardworking Americans that their jobs and professional identity will no longer exist. It’s why Democrats should shift the narrative around coal to one of helping those same workers left high and dry by the very companies for which they’ve worked. Coal companies have filed for bankruptcy while getting out of paying workers their wages and pension benefits and when Republicans like President Trump say they support the coal industry, what they really mean is that they support its executives, not its workers.

Democrats running for office need to paint a vision of a better future for the electorate, which affords people clean air and water and jobs that pay liveable wages via a transition to a clean energy economy. The Republican argument has been that efforts to fight climate change (such as a transition to renewables) come at the direct cost of the economy, but the truth is that a green transition is the largest wealth-creation opportunity of our lifetime. Americans needed to be extended an invitation to join the work that shapes this future.

Lawmakers wanting a clean energy future must ensure that they have a people-centric plan in mind that allows for a just transition for workers who lose jobs. While the concept of a just transition means something different for every country and community, the United States does have examples of how other nations have handled similar predicaments.

All this isn’t to say that Democrats can win the votes of coal country, but people need something to vote for that’s more than merely keeping the status quo. At the same time, Donald Trump should be held accountable for his failed promises that have helped big coal companies and their shareholders but have done little to help miners themselves.

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