Trump Is Mortgaging the Future of Millions of Children for a 75,000 Job Coal Industry

Climate change is a much more important and dire issue than most think- coastal cities will be completely wiped out, fish will die out from acidic oceans, cost the global economy $700 billion annually by 2030, displace up to 600 million people by 2050, Western wildfires could double or quadruple in frequency, and droughts will spread across the USA. Millennials will be alive and well to experience the effects of climate change, but what is most troubling is that Trump is mortgaging the future livelihood of American children to protect an industry of only 75,000.

In Trump’s goal to ‘end the war on coal,’ Trump has rescinded important Obama-era environmental protections to help alter the course of climate change and preserve the environment. In a new sweeping executive order, Trump is annulling and reversing most of Obama’s executive orders to thwart climate change- containing regulations like requiring agencies to take climate change into account when creating national plans and posing a moratorium on leasing federal land for new coal power plants.

The reasoning Trump gave for rescinding much of Obama’s environmental protection regulation was to bring back coal jobs and rebuild the coal industry. This is problematic for two main reasons, one being that the coal industry consists of only 75,000 people. Trump is willing to take all the negatives of climate change in the future, such as displacing 600 million people and costing the global economy $700 billion a year, just to preserve an industry of 75,000. Tens of millions of American children deserve to have their futures irreversibly damaged and existentially threatened by climate change just so 75,000 people can keep their jobs?

The other reason Trump’s new executive order is ridiculous is that the decline of coal as a source of energy has nothing to do with environmental regulations and more to do with economics– coal used to be the cheapest form of energy, so it was the most popular, but now natural gas prices have tumbled so low that the energy industry is shifting from coal to natural gas. Coal as a share of US energy consumption has been in a free fall long before Obama’s environmental regulations.

On top of that, it’s not just that the economy is shifting towards cheap natural gas over coal- the coal industry itself has gone under a rapid automation revolution over the past thirty years. Coal productivity was steadily climbing from 1980 to 2003 while shedding almost 55% of its workforce.

 

As Brookings explains, the primary reason is due to the shift from the labor-intensive Appalachia mines to the open-pit mines of the west:

One of the early harbingers of automation in coal mining was the shift from underground coal mines in the Appalachian region to the open pit mines of the West (especially in Montana and Wyoming). Surface mining—also known as mountaintop removal mining, in which miners use controlled explosions to open mountains and mine the newly exposed coal seams—is less labor-intensive and more automated than traditional underground mining. Between 1980 and 2015, underground mining’s share of total coal production dropped from 41–35 percent, while surface mining production increased from 59–65 percent. Coal companies in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming can extract more than 11 times as much coal per employee hour as coal companies in the Appalachian Basin.

Simply put- Trump is willing to threaten the futures of our children to help save the jobs of the very few, while still not bringing back the coal industry. Under Trump’s new environmental regime, carbon emissions from dirty coal will go up while coal industry employment will continue to go down. Expert dealmaking, as Trump would say.

 

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