Trump won’t save coal jobs — he will put America on the path to environmental ruin

President Trump just signed a sweeping executive order designed to cripple U.S. efforts to fight climate change and prevent the worst ravages of global warming. Trump’s actions are, he says, designed to meet his campaign goal of bringing back jobs to the coal industry.

But, like most of Trump’s policies, these orders are based on alternative facts and ignore basic economic realities. Coal jobs aren’t coming back — and our environment will pay a terrible price for government decisions based on myths and right-wing talking points.

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Environmental regulation is always the fall guy for the Republican Party. But the clean power rules just targeted by Trump are a particularly ludicrous scapegoat for coal’s declining fortunes because they haven’t even gone into effect yet.

 

The two main causes of lost jobs in the coal industry — like virtually all industries — are actually automation and efficiency. The largest coal-mining machine in the world can extract 4,500 tons of coal per hour and requires only 27 people to operate.

Consolidation, industry mergers and natural market forces have also dramatically reduced employment in the coal industry — common occurrences that Wall Street routinely cheers.  

The boom in natural gas — something President Trump has promised to accelerate — will only make coal less economical in the years to come. And, of course, coal must also reckon with the rapid increase in wind, solar and other renewable energy sources, which are rapidly overtaking fossil fuels in the total number of people employed across the United States.

Trump’s orders won’t reverse these forces steadily eroding coal employment. But they could help this dirty industry avoid taking responsibility for the incredible harm it does to people and the planet.

Coal-powered electrical generation isn’t new. In fact, it’s an industry from the turn of the last century, and that fact alone should make people consider the longevity of this approach to energy generation.

Here’s the reality: Boiling water by burning coal to turn a turbine for electricity is expensive. The only reason coal has stuck around so long is that many of its costs have been borne by people and the environment.  

Burning coal emits heavy metal pollution, including mercury — one of the most potent neurotoxins on Earth. Burning coal also acidifies the rain, poisoning our lakes and rivers. Smog and particulate matter damage people’s lungs and result in lost work and school time due to respiratory illnesses.

That’s why research found that the clean power policies Trump just reversed would have yielded billions of dollars worth of benefits in the form of reduced heart disease, asthma and other life-threatening health problems.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted when coal is burned also make our planet warmer. Scientists estimate that as many as 50 percent of all the species on Earth will be threatened with extinction by the end of this century if climate change is not addressed.

Trump, of course, is determined not to address it. Through his executive orders over the past three months, he has conclusively demonstrated that he is the most anti-environmental president in history.

Facts, science, reason — none of these things seem to influence his decisions when it comes to the environment. If they did, Trump would understand that his actions today will help put his beloved Mar-a-Lago resort underwater in his children’s lifetime.

If Trump listened to scientists and the facts, rather than industry special interests, he would understand that these latest executive orders will shorten the lives of many Americans and lower our standard of living.

And they won’t bring back coal.    

Brett Hartl is government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity.


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