Trump’s Losing Record On Coal

Image: Screenshot of NYT Digital Photo: Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

By Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

Trump promised to end the so-called “war on coal,” but now, three years and millions of dollars later, it is clearly a failure, Eric Lipton reports for The New York Times. The Trump administration sank an exorbitant amount of effort and funds to save coal mines and power plants, even intervening directly with some, but coal’s decline has continued to accelerate. When Trump made these promises on the 2016 campaign trail, he faced criticism from environmentalists and many more who said that investing in waning, non-renewable resources was a waste of time and money, and wouldn’t help workers or the economy. According to current data, they were right.

Why This Matters: As the 2020 election nears, Trump faces speculation that all the money and effort he put into coal, wasn’t invested in good faith. Some believe that the direct interventions into coal and power plants like the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona were nothing more than an elaborate PR campaign that failed. Trump now has lost the vote of many miners and plant workers. Alvin Long, a lifelong Republican who worked as a miner for 30 years said, “We really thought we had a chance to keep it going, when we voted for Trump. But I don’t care to listen to him anymore. All of his promises went down the drain.”

The Trump Administration’s Failure To Turn The Tide On Coal

As the Times summed it up: “Since Mr. Trump was inaugurated, 145 coal-burning units at 75 power plants have been idled, eliminating 15 percent of the nation’s coal-generated capacity, enough to power about 30 million homes.”  In this failed effort to save the industry, Trump rolled back some of the most important environmental regulations on the books.  For example, Trump’s rollback of the Obama Era Clean Power Act didn’t benefit the coal industry the way he said it would.  At the same time, the Trump administration cut funding for many federal works and job training programs. Coal workers laid off from mines and plants, or those whose workplaces closed entirely were abandoned by the Administration, with few federal resources for finding new jobs.

In regions like Arizona, Indigenous communities who had worked in the coal industry for generations were especially damaged, despite being promised that they would be saved. Trump’s inability to deliver cost him the support of many Indigenous mining communities, who have since embraced plans to transition to clean energy. Navajo National Council Speaker, Seth Damon, explained, “Our people, our sovereignty and our right to self-determination predate the first coal seam found on Navajo, and we will endure and thrive together.”

Some may consider this a win for the environment and environmental groups, but it’s a pyrrhic victory. Three years of rollbacks and layoffs have left climate change unchecked and communities in the lurch. Trump’s real failure lies in making such unreasonable, PR motivated promises in the first place. Coal communities already knew that the industry was on its last legs. “You really can’t change what was already in motion,” said former miner Bruce Summers.

As renewable energy like solar and wind power become more economically viable, Trump faces an uphill battle against Democratic politicians and his opponent, Joe Biden, who are eager to invest in sustainable power. Politicians like Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have endorsed the Green New Deal, which proposes federal funding for jobs programs for workers in the fossil fuel industry.

For many communities, those benefits seem attractive and practical. However, renewable energy production alone may struggle to replace all of the coal jobs lost. About 62% of coal mining regions in the U.S. are suitable for solar farming. The new industry would be able to replace about two-thirds of the jobs formerly provided by mines and power plants, but workers like Ernest J. Whitehorse, whose brother and son also worked in coal, have hope. “We will persevere, survive, like our forefathers did,” he said.

To Go Deeper: Read the whole story with fantastic visuals here.

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