Congressional Republicans, and a handful of Democrats, voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule aimed at preventing coal mining waste from being dumped in nearby streams. It was the first step for Republicans in dismantling Obama’s legacy on the environment and years of “excessive” government regulations.
The biggest argument for the joint resolution of disapproval was to save the jobs in the coal mining industry. As House Speaker Paul Ryan (R – WI) put it, “The stream protection rule is really just a thinly veiled attempt to wipe out coal mining jobs.”
Now the resolution is on its way to President Trump’s desk. This is a blow to environmentalists as the Congressional Review Act (CRA) prevents the executive branch from imposing similar rules by future administrations.
President Trump made coal a centerpiece of his campaign and promised to bring back coal mining jobs, but the truth is the coal industry is declining. Coal production in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest annual level of production since 1986 thanks to cheap natural gas and automation. China, formerly a major buyer of American coal, has also moved away from importing coal from the U.S.
Coal mining employs relatively few workers because it is highly mechanized. The government provides subsidies for renewable energy and has invested millions of dollars into fracking because natural gas is more abundant and cheaper than coal.
Additionally, air pollution and carbon emissions regulations has forced utility companies to ditch aging coal-fired power plants and switch to natural gas or green sources.
Arch Coal, Alpha Resources, Patriot Coal and Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the U.S., all filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016 because of an industry downturn. Even if environmental regulations were relaxed under the Trump administration, coal still would not be a sustainable industry.
Killing the Stream Protection Rule will not revitalize the coal industry. So why did Republicans vote to repeal the rule?
The simple answer is because the regulation is an easy target. It’s a way of flexing their muscles and showing strength now that Obama has left the White House.
Unfortunately, communities that rely on coal for employment work in an industry that’s not sustainable. We know what happens after coal mines close because it’s been happening for years. McDowell, W.Va. used to be the coal capital of the country, but is now the poorest county in the state.
McDowell has an unemployment rate that is twice the national average and a population that has decreased 38 percent in the past 20 years. One-third of residents live in poverty, and more than half of the households in the county have incomes below $25,000.
If politicians really want to help areas that are reliant on coal, they should invest in diversifying regional economies by bringing in industries like tourism and healthcare. Workers can be retrained to get jobs in agriculture, solar panel installation and sustainable construction, and earn degrees in nursing and information technology.
Coal will not save American jobs. Innovation and retraining our workers in sustainable industries will keep Americans employed.
We just put the health of our communities at more risk to save a dying industry.
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Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.