Smaller lumps of coal in some Christmas stockings this year

By Nick Gier
Reader Columnist

Every mine safety law is written in a miner’s blood.
—Phil Smith, United Mine Workers

Initially, I could not find a connection between the 40-year decline in coal consumption and Christmas, and then suddenly it came to me: there will be smaller lumps of coals in the stockings of those who deny climate change. They are definitely on Santa’s Naughty List.

Way up north Santa has had to strip down to his long underwear during the warmest five years since he started delivering presents in 1832. He has experienced first-hand the recession of the glaciers and the permafrost around his workshop has melted for the first time and has not yet re-froze this winter. 

Despite Trump’s claim that “the coal industry is back,” estimates are that 2018 will experience the largest ever decrease in coal consumption. This is mainly due to the closing of 250 coal-fired power plants since 2010—three in October alone. Cleaner natural gas and renewable wind and solar are gradually edging out coal in the nation’s energy equation.

Of course Trump has blamed Obama and his alleged “war on coal,” but the decline in consumption has been fairly steady since 1979, and the recent steep drop started during the second Bush administration. Furthermore, Obama’s Clean Power Plan never went into effect because of a court challenge, and now Trump has rescinded Obama’s executive order.

Even the easing of regulations for coal-fired plants has not stopped their removal off-line nor has it encouraged the building of new ones. “Ironically,” says former Obama official Joe Pizarchik, “the new tax law approved by the Republican-controlled Congress has encouraged coal plants to close, as utilities use a provision that allows them to accelerate depreciation costs for closing plants.” 

Last July, blowhard Trump claimed that he had created 45,000 new coal jobs, but the actual number was 1,001 for 2017. This year the 4 West Mine in southwestern Pennsylvania is slated to close, and 400 jobs will be lost there. Furthermore, over 1,000 miners were let go in Kentucky, Texas, and Ohio, reversing all the gains in 2017. 

Mine deaths have nearly doubled, from eight in 2016 to 15 this year, the highest since 2014. During that time there were 60,000 more miners, but the Obama administration still brought the death toll down below 20. Safety rules, now under attack, were strengthened significantly after 29 miners lost their lives in the Upper Big Branch mine in 2013.

Black lung disease is also on the rise, and the Trump administration is revisiting regulations regarding coal dust put in place by the Obama administration. Mine safety lawyer Tony Oppegard believes there’s only one reason for this move: “To raise the amount of dust miners can breathe in or to create other loopholes where operators could violate the standard.” In June 2018, no doubt feeling freer to ignore existing rules, a Kentucky coal company was fined for not reporting the correct readings on its mine’s dust monitors.

Former coal lobbyist and climate change denier Andrew Wheeler has replaced the completely corrupt Scott Pruitt at the EPA. He is determined to de-regulate the coal plants even more. He has proposed that any new plants could emit up to 500 more pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity than the 2015 standard. 

With Trump-like denial of the obvious, Wheeler claims that this would not increase carbon dioxide emissions! He boasts that that these were down 2.7 percent in 2017, but they have been decreasing since 2007 and have nothing to do with his EPA or Trump. 

This year emissions have gone up 2.5 percent because of oil use and greater demand for cooling and heating. This is just under the 2.7 percent across the world, pushing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 405 parts per million, the highest in 3-5 million years.

Major health authorities have condemned the EPA proposal declaring that it is “a major threat to the health of all Americans, particularly those most vulnerable. Power plant pollution and climate change endangers the health of every American, but certain groups are more at risk—including children, older adults, pregnant women, low-income communities and communities of color. This latest attempt from the administration to give industry a license to pollute is irresponsible and illogical from both a health and economic perspective.”

A bill to shore up miners’ pensions funds has been held up in the GOP Senate, and Trump has done nothing to promote its passage. Former Obama official Pizarchik says: “Trump talks tough to the coal miners to get their support, but he doesn’t deliver for them.”

Nick Gier of Moscow taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Email him at [email protected] 

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