One of President Donald Trump’s oft-repeated campaign promises was to revive the coal industry and bring back American mining jobs. He marketed himself as “the last shot to miners,” the only person who would and could roll back the “phony” environmental protection measures that the coal industry has blamed for its recent demise.
Unfortunately for these voters, however, Trump and his staff have come to realize that saying and doing are two completely different things. Robert Murray, the founder and CEO of Murray Energy, which is the largest privately owned coal miner in the U.S., has given Trump a fact check he will not appreciate.
Murray met with Trump in February to discuss reviving the coal industry. However, when speaking about Trump’s plan to increase the number of coal mining jobs Murray states:
I suggested that he temper his expectations. Those are my exact words, he can’t bring them back.
Murray is right. The coal industry is not going to make a comeback; it has been replaced with cheaper, cleaner natural gas.
Many miners and supporters of fossil fuels like to point to Obama-era environmental legislation which they say has prevented a level playing field for the coal industry by burdening them with unnecessary and unfair regulations.
One of the most hated environmental laws prevented coal miners from polluting America’s small streams and rivers. One of the first things Trump did after taking office was roll this back.
In reality, coal is not economically viable anymore, even without critical environmental regulations.
Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the anti-coal Beyond Coal Campaign, says the same thing as Murray:
I live in West Virginia and I understand that there is a lot of optimism among some that coal will make a comeback. The industry likes to point to pollution standards for the decline in jobs, but the reality is the market has markedly changed.
Friends of the coal industry now populate the highest perches of our agencies and they will do their best to unwind clean air and water regulations and we will fight them every step of the way, but even if all their wishes come true, I don’t think there will be a big boost to the coal industry.
If these two opposing sides agree that the coal industry is in irreversible decline, then you can be sure that it’s true.
If Trump wants to save the mining industry, he has to do a few things. First, he has to fight automation: jobs in mining are declining because jobs previously done by humans can now be done more efficiently and cheaply by robots and artificial intelligence. Why bother hiring a human, who needs to be insured and paid per hour, when you can buy a machine and hire one person to maintain lots of them?
The second thing Trump needs to do is cut back on fracking. Shale gas mining, which saw a boom under Obama, has gradually been eating away at coal’s market share. It’s cheaper, easier and less invasive to acquire and had the tacit support of a U.S. Government that was trying to re-establish energy independence. If Trump wants to get coal mining jobs, he has to fight big oil, which he won’t.
Finally, the Obama-era environmental regulations made it costly to run coal plants and coal powered businesses, causing many to switch to natural gas. They’re not going to pay to switch back to coal simply because Trump favors that particular industry.
Unfortunately for the coal miners of America, Trump made a promise he was never able to keep. They fell for one of the oldest political tricks in the book: Find a marginalized and downtrodden economic minority, promise things you can never deliver and enjoy the free votes.
While Trump has said he will tackle the environmental regulations imposed by Obama, he has said nothing about fighting automation, and he has promised to expand fracking. It can be safely assumed that the President has abandoned America’s coal miners to their fate.
The coal miners are one of the first working-class communities that voted for Trump to be abandoned by the unabashed and shameful conman. They won’t be the last. It is a bittersweet state of affairs when one of the most likely ways of getting rid of this President is through the economic and financial misery of millions of working people.