Not much left but the floor, nothing lives here anymore
Except the memory of a coal miner’s daughter
—Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter
Based on President Trump’s latest executive order, it’s about time to dust off the old mining equipment because the men in Butcher Holler may soon return to the shafts. The President has just signed an executive order aimed at kickstarting the coal industry and placating those downtrodden Trumpettes yearning for the good ‘ole days of hauling 16 tons, owing the company store, and jigging to those jangly, not-at-all-depressing Merle Travis songs.
The move will, in Trump’s own words, “eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom, and allow our companies and our workers to thrive, compete, and succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time.” Obviously these words—the best words—have Rand-loving Republicans salivating, with libertarian think-tank the Heartland Institute praising the repeal, noting it will end “unnecessary and costly regulations that kill jobs without producing any benefits,” the organization said in a statement. “His executive order will ‘end the theft of American prosperity’ and make EPA ‘focus on its primary mission of protecting our air and water.”
In this case, “unnecessary and costly regulations” and Trump’s own words “restore economic freedom” discreetly means squash Obama-era environmental regulations, which the President and many Republicans have blamed for stymying the manufacture of “American energy”—i.e. Coal. Once imposed, the order will direct government agencies to rewrite regulation restricting carbon emissions; it’ll lift the moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands; it’ll reverse rules concerning methane leaks; and it’ll revise the way government analyzes the “cost” of climate change.
Of course much of this needs to go through the U.S. court system, so it’s not time to panic yet. That said, the environmental consequences, such as allowing mining at Yellowstone, removing all CO2 regulations, and eliminating the Clean Power Plan, of this order has scientists pissed.
From a public health perspective, it is frightening because the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan are numerous. The EPA reported that the plan would be responsible for 3,600 fewer premature deaths, 1,700 fewer heart attacks, and 90,000 fewer asthma attacks.
In an interview with USA Today, Janet McCabe, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the one who wrote the Clean Power Plan, which President Trump hopes to eliminate, called the latest executive order distressing.
“We didn’t do these programs for fun,” McCabe said. “We did them because science was showing that there was air pollution, which was causing public health threats and would be doing so even more in the future. And that there costs associated with that. And that there were benefits associated with finding ways to reasonably minimize, reduce and put ourselves on a transition to cleaner energy.”
Jennifer Francis, a research professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey, in an interview with LiveScience, condemned the order, “Dismantling this plan slows our transition to a clean-energy nation, along with the explosion in new jobs and economic benefits that go with it,” she said. “This rollback will mean more asthma and other breathing disorders associated with air pollution, more contamination of water supplies by residue from mining fossil fuels and more money wasted on infrastructure for a dying energy industry.”
Perhaps that’s the most important nose “more money wasted on infrastructure for a dying energy industry.
“My action today is the latest in a series of steps to create American jobs and to grow American wealth,” President Trump said to a crowd of miners last week. “We’re ending the theft of American prosperity, and rebuilding our beloved country.”
Yes, “create American jobs” because there are so many job openings in coal mining.
In total, 50,300 Americans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, work as coal miners. That’s 0.0004% of the entire U.S. workforce. Even with Trump “bringing back coal,” that number wouldn’t exceed 131,000 employees (including the secretaries at said mines). That’s half than the total number of shoe salespeople in the country.
To put this number in perspective, more people work in the bowling industry than in coal. Trump could “Making Bowling Great Again.” The Big Lebowski could only do so much. More people also work at Arby’s than in coal. If Arby’s had gone under, would the President run on a platform saving Horsey Sauce? He’d sure as Hell better.
Worse still, coal ain’t coming back. And it has nothing to do with the CO2 regulations like politicians would like you to believe. For starters, it lacks market demand (did you hear that Hearst Institute?), which is what Robert Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming, told The New York Times. Coal’s not coming back because of fracking. The fracking boom depressed natural gas prices, making it cheaper than coal. Natural gas is also cleaner than coal. It’s cheaper to mine than coal. It emits half the CO2 as coal. It emits far fewer pollutants than coal. And, to add insult, natural gas workers aren’t subjected to the lethal conditions like the black lung.
Furthermore, coal ain’t coming back because America isn’t even mining it. Look at the big picture: Last year’s 900 million tons mined was the most amount since 1986 and nearly 25 percent less than the amount mined ten years ago, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). It’s not being mined because…we don’t need it. Back in 2008, coal supplied half of the country’s power. By 2015, that number had fallen to 33 percent. With alternative energy sources like wind and solar becoming cheaper and more available, that number is expected to fall even more in the coming years.
“That is what this is all about: bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams—and making America wealthy again,” said the President.
The World Bank estimates that in the U.S., “clean energy” creates 16.7 jobs per million dollars of spending, a number more than three times the 5.2 jobs per $1 million for oil and natural gas and more than twice the 6.9 jobs per $1 million spent on coal.
So what jobs are you talking about, Mr. President? What dreams? Is asthma the dream? Is plowing half of Yellowstone the dream? Will that make America wealthy again? Because it sure reads more like a nightmare.
Top photo by simpleinsomnia CC BY 2.0
Tom Burson is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? but with more sunscreen and jorts.