Crushed by Coal’s Survival

April 5, 2017

“This day may be remembered as a low point in human history …” — David Arkush, head climate programs for Public Citizen.

That day? Last Tuesday. The “end of days” event?  President Trump signing an executive order blunting the regulatory assault on U.S. coal. Bad enough the president prefers his steak well done, but now he’s moved us “decisively toward catastrophe” merely by returning to traditional energy policy and stabilizing coal production.

Survivors of the Cold War will recall the hysteria that led to backyard bomb shelters. Today, as Marx said, “history repeats itself but as farce” after Trump’s regulatory re-set touched off similar hysteria among Beltway journos.

E&E News recounted the tearful plight not of coal miners but of “very saddened” EPA scientist left in a “zombie” state from Trump’s betrayal. Axios Generate ignored the stoic miners at Trump’s side to quote EPA staff who were “horrified” at the “cruel” sight of Trump dismantling what “people have spent their lives and careers working on.”
Where else but in Washington are bureaucrats better copy than coal miners? What about the thousands of “lives and careers” they’ve ended?

The Pulitzer for piling on reporting was won handily by The Washington Post. The March 30 edition featured three reporters plus a columnist, followed by a piece Saturday, all condemning Trump for his audacity in attempting to prevent the complete destruction of the coal industry and the livelihoods of its remaining workforce.

Two stories (“Trump vow on coal” and “Trump threatens to drown out the voices of despair”) begin by furiously attacking a straw man. Overturning the Clean Power Plan and the moratorium on federal coal sales will not restore the coal industry to its prominence, they say, because competing fuels are behind coal’s decline. Then why so disturbed about lifting the regulatory burden? In fact, why were regulations needed in the first place?

E. J. Dionne mocked Trump’s allegedly broken promise to the “working class”. Note the false sympathy for coal miners from the same voices that cheered every ton of coal lost under the Obama administration. Sympathizing with blue collar Americans while supporting job-killing regulations is preaching temperance from the bar stool.

A third story, “China presses ahead,” suggested Trump’s action makes the U.S. a laggard behind China’s progress on the global climate agenda. But it was the Obama administration, not President Trump, that aborted FutureGen, our country’s major carbon capture demonstration project supported by the coal industry.

In case readers missed the point, the Post followed on Saturday with “Trump made a promise.” The reporter briefly stops beating this dead horse to observe that even if coal jobs returned they would be outnumbered by shoe clerks. Would he prefer a shoe clerk’s salary and benefits to a coal miner’s? The Labor Department chart he uses to document the decline of coal jobs also documents the regulatory toll on them, beginning in 2011, the year that EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics rule began to retire at least 33 GW of coal-based generating capacity.

Note the irony here. All accuse Trump of a symbolic action to save jobs but overlook the purely symbolic purpose of the climate policy he voided. EPA admitted the Clean Power Plan was merely a symbolic gesture, having no discernible impact on global climate change (0.016 degree F reduction in global temperature).

Instead of boldly asserting the obvious, here are two stories worthy of serious investigation.

Why does the party that once supported working people turn against them by allying with affluent interest groups just to advance symbolic gestures that achieve no measurable good?

Why does that party insist on backing job-killing regulations that cost it blue collar support if the rules aren’t needed to kill off the coal industry supposedly dying from natural gas anyway?

Why brag about killing Bambi if the wolf ate him?