There are ways that President Donald Trump could help unemployed coal miners and other Americans whose jobs are being made obsolete by changes in technology and the economy.
But pulling out of the Paris climate accord is not one of them.
Trump’s symbolic gesture can bring only harm — harm to the planet, to the economy, to this country’s standing as a global leader and to future generations who will reap catastrophe and conflict if Trump’s actions undermine efforts to avert the worst effects of climate change.
One thing Trump’s move will not bring is a revival of coal jobs, certainly not in Eastern Kentucky.
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Even if there were an upsurge in demand for coal for power plants (highly unlikely), the coal would not come from Kentucky’s mountains because the cost of mining the region’s remaining thin seams cancels profits. The same is true for the rest of Central Appalachia.
(A bump in the price of metallurgical coal, the kind used in steel-making, brought about in part because Australian mining was disrupted by a cyclone and rail problems, is welcome but should not be mistaken for a coal-industry turnaround.)
Trump reportedly wanted to show solidarity with the coal communities that voted for him by keeping his promise to withdraw from the climate agreement. We might see that as honorable, albeit meaningless, except that Trump’s budget pays for tax cuts for the wealthy by eviscerating support for coal communities and other places suffering economic dislocation.
The Trump budget slashes job training and career and technical education programs for people of all ages, including funding for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act, named for the late congressman from Hindman.
It betrays coal country, in particular, by cutting the Appalachian Regional Commission, the federal agency that’s been seeding efforts to diversify the economy, support entrepreneurship and bring broadband to rural areas in Kentucky.
Meanwhile, the health care law supported by the president and House Republicans, along with Trump’s budget, would make health insurance unaffordable for many older workers, also to cut taxes for the wealthiest.
In his Rose Garden speech, Trump spouted debunked facts and figures from an intentionally skewed study that was bought and paid for by the Koch brothers whose billions come from their fossil-fuel refineries and pipelines. Among other flaws, the study projects huge job losses from reducing carbon emissions without accounting for any jobs created by the proliferation of renewable energy technologies.
More savvy and more honest, Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn recently told reporters that coal “doesn’t really make that much sense anymore as a feedstock” and that by investing in wind and solar, the U.S. “can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly.”
Kentucky’s Republicans in Congress are applauding Trump’s exit from the climate agreement. No surprise. But trying to turn back the clock on technological progress is not leadership.
The surest way for Trump to keep faith with his blue-collar voters is by investing in people, especially the resourceful, dedicated miners who risked their lives and health to pull coal from beneath the Earth. That’s also the surest way to keep faith with the future.