As photo opportunities go, this one was pretty well planned. President Donald Trump sat behind a desk as he talked about his love of everything about coal mining, and to prove it, there were about two dozen real-life coal miners who were brought in for the ceremony.
I don’t really know if they were actual coal miners or came from Central Casting. When a former reality TV celebrity is in the White House, I don’t take much at face value anymore if he’s involved.
But let’s assume they were real, and had been laid off from their mining jobs. Other than shaking Trump’s hand and watching him pretend to dig with an imaginary shovel, these men probably won’t get much out of the experience. Most of them won’t be able to return to their old jobs, and if they are employed in the mines again it could be for a lot less money and benefits. As always, coal mine owners will be the ones with bulging wallets.
Trump’s signing of an executive order undoing most of the environmental regulations former President Barack Obama put in place so carbon emissions can be reduced was just a show, on several levels.
Beginning March 20, things started badly for the new president when he learned that the FBI was conducting an investigation of claims that some of his staff could have been in cahoots with Russian leaders to undermine the last U.S. election. Then Trump, who campaigned on the promise to repeal and replace Obamacare with a better plan, watched helplessly as conservative members of his own party banded together to turn Trumpcare into Chumpcare. House Republicans wouldn’t even let that hastily written mess of a bill go to a vote.
Trump needed a win, and he or his staff found something he could claim as a victory: fulfilling his vow to put coal miners back to work. He signed an executive order meant to undo most of the environmental regulations on coal mining and other fossil fuel industries that former President Barack Obama also established through an executive order.
What about the Paris Agreement on climate change, where America’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions helped persuade other nations to join the fight to preserve the world’s environment? President Trump didn’t repeat what Candidate Trump said — that climate change is a hoax made up by China — but he definitely conveyed that he thinks combating climate change isn’t worth spending money on.
Let’s see. He has a choice between taking action that could help keep the planet and all of us who live on it alive, or he could build a “beautiful” wall along our southern border to keep Mexicans he branded as thieves and rapists out of our country. Of course he picked the wall. It’s no wonder he has an approval rating of only 38 percent. I’m surprised it’s that high.
Why an executive order won’t work
Why do I think Trump’s executive order won’t put many struggling coal miners back to work in Wyoming and other coal states? Because it’s only an executive order, not a law. Trump made it sound like he only has to sign a document and magically, coal is king again and miners are employed. But that’s not the way such changes are implemented.
The Clean Power Plan that Obama championed is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, and it wouldn’t have been in effect until 2022 anyway. Environmental organizations will bury the Trump administration in so many lawsuits over his coal plan, the president’s head will spin. Believe me.
National Public Radio interviewed Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King about her reaction to Trump gutting laws meant to protect our environment. Mixed in with her answer was this anecdote: “One man here described it as Christmas every day since Trump was elected and especially since he was inaugurated.”
I found it fascinating that even a devoted Trump supporter like Gillette’s mayor told NPR that not many of the miners were laid off in her city because of strict, burdensome environmental regulations. She cited the low price of natural gas and technology that has allowed mining companies to use machines and hire fewer workers as the main reasons. Robots don’t get sick or join unions.
That’s a message that needs to be conveyed to the rest of the country. Every chance they get Wyoming politicians moan and blame regulations from the big, bad federal government for putting all of the miners out of work. It’s simply not true.
Here’s a sample of the predictable reactions to Trump’s coal plan from our GOP congressional delegation:
Sen. Mike Enz: “The industries [the Obama administration] hurt the most employ many Wyoming citizens and we should be working to help support those jobs, not looking for ways to put those workers out of business. It is important that we review the steps taken … that placed excessively burdensome or unnecessary regulations on the energy sector.”
Sen. John Barrasso: “The Obama administration’s punishing regulations have done far more harm to our economy than good for the environment. I applaud President Trump for taking action on behalf of America’s families and energy workers.”
Rep. Liz Cheney: “The coal moratorium, imposed by the Obama administration and lifted today by President Trump, was nothing short of a war on coal miners and their families.”
Trump talked about advancing “clean coal” as one sure way to revive the coal industry. Could somebody who has access to him — maybe Ivanka Trump — please tell her dad that there’s no such thing as clean coal? It was part of a highly successful marketing campaign a few years ago. Somebody put the word “clean” in front of coal, and politicians across the country picked up on the phrase and they’ve repeated it so often many people just accept that it’s real.
“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump boasted. “We’re going to have clean coal, really clean coal.” But what about really, really clean coal? Why not shoot for the stars?
A recent E & E News [Energy & Environment] article noted, “Coal isn’t ‘clean.’ It’s only a clean source of energy if aging coal-fired power plants invest billions of dollars in upgrades to scrub coal’s toxic emissions, and then spend billions more to bolt on carbon capture technology.”
In 2003 coal generated half of the electrical power in the U.S. By 2015 it had dropped to one-third, and a year later cheaper natural gas surpassed coal’s market share. Renewable energy like solar and wind generated power for the rest of the market.
If Trump loosens the regulations on fracking and more natural gas becomes available, the president could erode more of coal’s market share.
The coal plan Trump unveiled last week may eventually show some results, but federal agency reviews, public comment periods, court battles and the possibility a future president could overturn his plan will likely keep it from happening until long after he is out of office. For the public and the environment’s sake, hopefully it may never go into effect.
I keep thinking about the gentleman from Gillette that the city’s mayor said views every day since Trump has been in office as Christmas.
Initially I thought it was an amusing comment, but he may be onto something. Someday children across the nation could be singing this revamped Christmas classic:
On the 100th day of Christmas, my president gave to me
100 tweeters tweeting
99 women fleeing
98 heads a’spinning
97 politicians pandering
96 polls a’plummeting …
And Ivanka in a pear tree.
This column was edited to add a line to the “revamped Christmas classic” — Ed.