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Kicking Them While They’re Down: What Trump is Doing to Appalachia

By Kenneth Surin - CounterPunch, April 11, 2017; Photo by Don O’Brien | CC BY 2.0

Appalachia voted overwhelmingly for Trump, who won it by a resounding 63%-33%.  Appalachia as a region is defined by federal law, and consists of 490 counties in 13 states.  Hillary Clinton won only 21 of these counties.  According to the right-wing Washington Examiner, “She did not win a single county in Appalachia that is mostly white, non-college-educated and has a population of under 100,000 people”.

Political analysts have used a fine-tooth comb to go over the issue of Trump’s popularity with less-educated whites, so there is no need to repeat their findings here.

More interesting, and not so much discussed thus far, is the potential impact on Appalachia of the budgetary policies announced recently by the Trump administration.  In a nutshell:  what’s been announced may “make America great again”, but it almost certainly won’t do this for Appalachia (not that the rest of the country, except for the plutocracy, is likely to benefit either).

Appalachia is one of the poorest regions in the US.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has been earmarked for elimination by Trump, as has the Economic Development Administration (EDA)– more about this later.  The ARC compiles statistics on Appalachian poverty, income, and employment.

According to the ARC 2010-2014 Poverty Rate report, the poverty rate across the US was 15.6% compared to 19.7% in the Appalachian region of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

There are significant variations between different Appalachian states where poverty rates are concerned.  For example, the Virginian statewide rate is 11.5% as opposed to an 18.8% rate for the Appalachian region overall.

(This statistic is however somewhat misleading when used in this way because Virginia’s overall poverty rate is greatly reduced by the economic contribution of affluent northern Virginia (NoVa) with its abundance of well-paid government and tech jobs.  There are “two Virginias” where income disparities are concerned, and the poverty rate in Appalachian Virginia, as opposed to NoVa, is a more accurate 18.8%.)

The state with the worst regional poverty rate is Kentucky with a 25.4% rate in its Appalachian portion as opposed to the 18.9% rate for the rest of the state.

The cause of this poverty is not so much unemployment (though that is a contributing factor), but desperately low income levels.

Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs

By Jill Richardson - CounterPunch, March 30, 2017

When Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, Scientific American used his own words to criticize it for not going far enough.

“There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change,” Obama said. “The science tells us we have to do more.”

Scientific American analyzed the Clean Power Plan and agreed, concluding that Obama’s plan didn’t go far enough, and would fail to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Now, Trump is dismantling even that. Obama’s insufficient effort to address climate change is gone with a stroke of Trump’s pen.

The plan was to go into effect in 2022, reducing pollution in three ways. First, by improving the efficiency of coal-fired power plants. Second, by swapping coal for cleaner natural gas. And third, by replacing fossil fuel energy with clean, renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Trump claims the plan puts coal miners out of work. But it hadn’t even been implemented yet. In reality, cheap natural gas and the use of machines instead of people to mine coal are responsible for putting far more miners out of work.

In other words, Trump is using sympathetic out-of-work miners as a cover for what is really just a handout to dirty industry.

Meanwhile, Trump is cutting job training programs for coal country. Given that, it’s hard to believe he cares at all about jobs for coal miners.

And, with a surge in cases of fatal black lung disease among miners in Appalachia, anyone who truly cared about miners would preserve the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which helps coal miners get black lung benefits.

In short, Trump’s killing of the Clean Power Plan is a handout to dirty industry with no regard for the well-being of coal miners. And it’s putting us even further behind in our efforts to leave the next generation a habitable planet.

A better leader would find a way to promote clean forms of energy while simultaneously creating good jobs for Americans. Of course, that’s exactly what Obama’s one-time “green jobs” czar Van Jones called for, and the Republicans hated him.

But the fact of the matter is that climate-smart policies create jobs. They create jobs retrofitting buildings, manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines, innovating to create more efficient batteries, and discovering the best way to upgrade our power grid.

It seems that, if we installed a wind turbine near the White House, Trump could single handedly provide the nation with clean energy from all of the bluster coming out of his mouth.

In the meantime, catastrophic climate change is as much of a crisis as ever, and the clock is ticking.

Trump’s Energy Plan: A “Brighter Future” for American Workers?

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 28, 2017

Full PDF of the White Paper can be found HERE

The day he was inaugurated, President Donald Trump issued his “America First Energy Plan.”[1] It presented policies it said would “stimulate our economy, ensure our security, and protect our health” and thereby provide “a brighter future.” Trump has promised that his energy policy will create “many millions of high-paying jobs.”[2]

What do American workers need in an energy policy? Does President Trump’s energy plan provide it? Or does it threaten our future? Is it credible or deceptive? Does it put us on the road to good jobs in an affordable, reliable energy future? Or does it threaten to reverse a massive shift to a more secure, climate-safe, fossil-free energy system — a clean energy revolution that will benefit American workers, and that is already under way?

Some in organized labor have been attracted by President Trump’s energy plan, even echoing the claim that it will provide “a brighter future.” But one thing you learn when you negotiate a contract for a union is to take a hard look at proposals you are offered— however attractive they may appear, it is best to unwrap the package and see what’s really in it before you agree. Labor should conduct similar “due diligence” for Trump’s America First Energy Plan. Was it designed to meet the needs of American workers, or of the global oil, gas, and coal companies whose executives have been appointed to so many top positions in the Trump administration? Will it encourage or hold up the energy revolution that is making renewable energy and energy efficiency the way of the future?

'Sheer Reckless Folly': Trump Destroys Obama-Era Climate Rules

By Nika Knight - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

President Donald Trump on Tuesday set about aggressively dismantling Obama-era climate policies with an executive order decried as "sheer reckless folly," which will increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the climate crisis.

"Aside from provoking a large-scale nuclear war, it is hard to imagine an American president taking an action more harmful to the U.S. than Trump's effort to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions," said David J. Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen's Climate Program, in a statement.

"This day may be remembered as a low point in human history—a time when the world's preeminent power could have led the world to a better future but instead moved decisively toward catastrophe," Arkush added.

The order instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rewrite former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP), which would have limited the emissions of coal-powered power plants. It also lifts the moratorium on federal coal leasing, repeals limits on methane emissions from fracking, and directs the agency to reconsider the Social Cost of Carbon and the National Environmental Policy Act guidance on greenhouse gas emissions.

"The EPA's rollback of basic environmental rules demonstrates that when it comes to the health of our children, our communities, and our climate, this is an administration of lawlessness and disorder," said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the grassroots sustainability group UPROSE, in statement.

"For frontline communities, those of us impacted first and worst by the extraction economy, this means an escalation of public health crises, from asthma to cancer. It means an utter disregard for those of us most vulnerable to climate disasters," Yeampierre added. "It means a  world of volatility and exploitation for our children and grandchildren."

Environmentalists, local and state leaders, and advocacy groups are vowing to resist.

Climate Activists Pledge Huge Response to Trump’s Executive Order

By Dani Heffernan - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

Climate activists are joining with labor, social justice, faith, and other organizations to plan a massive march in Washington, D.C. this April 29th that will offer up resistance to Trump’s new executive orders and put forward the vision of a clean energy economy that works for all.

The “Peoples Climate March” aims to bring upwards of 100,000 people to Washington, D.C. and turn out tens of thousands more across the country to push back on Trump’s agenda and stand up for climate, jobs and justice.

350.org is one of the organizations on the steering committee for the mobilization and is working on turning out members to D.C. and actions across the country.

350.org Executive Director May Boeve said:

“The best way to fight against these executive orders is to take to the streets. Even as Trump dismantles environmental protections to shore up the fossil fuel industry, support for action to stop global warming is at an all-time high. Now it’s up to communities to bring our vision of a healthy climate and a just transition to renewable energy to life. From the upcoming congressional recess through the Peoples Climate March and beyond, we’ll be putting pressure on lawmakers to defend the climate and building power to stop the fossil fuel industry for good.”

The wide-ranging coalition behind the Peoples Climate March includes major labor unions and environmental, climate justice, faith, youth, social justice, peace groups, and more (the “Peoples” in the title is a direct reference to the role of Indigenous peoples in helping lead the effort). In 2014, the same coalition brought over 400,000 people to the streets of New York City to call for climate action ahead of the Paris Climate Summit.

Contrary to Spin, Trump Slashing Energy Jobs With New Executive Order

By Nika Knight - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

As the Trump administration brags that Tuesday's executive order to dismantle Obama-era climate regulations will create coal industry jobs, new employment data from the Department of Energy (DoE) demonstrates how misguided that claim is.

Clean energy employs many more Americans than the fossil fuel industry, and economic forecasts show that the trend will continue, according to a Sierra Club analysis published Monday of the DoE's 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (pdf) released earlier this year.

"Clean energy jobs, including those from solar, wind, energy efficiency, smart grid technology, and battery storage, vastly outnumber all fossil fuel jobs nationwide from the coal, oil and gas sectors. That includes jobs in power generation, mining, and other forms of fossil fuel extraction," the Sierra Club observed.

Nationwide, "clean energy jobs outnumber all fossil fuel jobs by over 2.5 to 1; and they outnumber all jobs in coal and gas by 5 to 1," the group wrote.

"Right now, clean energy jobs already overwhelm dirty fuels in nearly every state across America, and that growth is only going to continue as clean energy keeps getting more affordable and accessible by the day," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune.

The New York Times also examined the ramifications of President Donald Trump's pending order, which would dismantle former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, and echoed the Sierra Club's findings.

Indeed, the newspaper notes that while more coal plants could remain open as a result of the order, increasing mechanization means that coal miners may still see job loss:

[C]oal miners also should not assume their jobs will return if Trump's regulations take effect.

The new order would mean that older coal plants that had been marked for closings would probably stay open, said Robert W. Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming. That would extend the market demand for coal for up to a decade.

But even so, "the mines that are staying open are using more mechanization," he said. "They’re not hiring people."

"So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs," he said.

"The problem with coal jobs has not been CO2 regulations, so this will probably not bring back coal jobs," Godby added. "The problem has been that there has not been market demand for coal."

Coal industry executive Robert Murray, of Murray Energy, apparently agrees. Murray told the Guardian that in a meeting with Trump, the coal boss told the president to temper his expectations.

"He can't bring [coal jobs] back," Murray said.

Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, added to the Guardian: "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."

The Times further cast doubt on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt's claim that the order would support U.S. energy independence. "We don't import coal," Robert Stavins, an energy economist at Harvard University, told the newspaper. "So in terms of the Clean Power Plan, this has nothing to do with so-called energy independence whatsoever."

"These facts make it clear that Donald Trump is attacking clean energy jobs purely in order to boost the profits of fossil fuel billionaires," charged the Sierra Club's Brune.

"If we truly want to grow our economy, reduce air and water pollution, protect public health and create huge numbers of news jobs for American workers," Brune added, "we must seize the opportunity that is right in front of our eyes: invest more in clean energy including solar, wind, storage and energy efficiency."

Trump Just Signed Away Underground Coal Mining Jobs

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, February 18, 2017

Before coal miners begin rejoicing the end of “Obama’s War on Coal,” they should realize the war on their jobs isn’t over—that war began well before Barack Obama took the oath of office.

Amid the name calling, political propaganda, and willful ignorance that came as a result of coal industry’s “War on Coal” campaign, many Appalachian miners forgot a very important fact, their jobs have always been considered overhead on the company’s quarterly statements. Their job, like any other overhead such as the cost of supplies, fuel, equipment etc., is a drain on the company’s overall profit. Within our system of capitalism and free market economics, businesses must continually seek to reduce expenses (overhead) so they can increase their quarterly returns, satisfy their stockholders, and  compete with other companies on a global scale.

As Bruce Stanley stated in the new documentary film Blood on the Mountain, “Coal doesn’t want you to have a job, because coal does better if you don’t have a job.  That’s benefits that don’t have to be paid, that’s salaries that don’t have to be paid, that’s so when you’re broken and busted you don’t have to be cared for.”

If anything, Trump’s signature paved the way to reducing mining jobs in Appalachia by opening the floodgates on surface mining, a highly productive form of mining that requires fewer miners who can be paid lower wages. If a coal company can make a higher profit by surface mining, why would they be inclined to open and operate as many underground mines?

This has not been a win for coal miners, this has been another win for coal companies.

Don’t delay – ditch coal

By Anne Harris - Red Pepper, January 26, 2017

“It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations,” said Amber Rudd in 2015, then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Coal is the greatest historical cause of climate change and currently the government is asking for submissions to its coal phase-out consultation. This could close all UK coal power stations in 2025. But the Coal Action Network say 2025 is too late, power stations must close sooner.

Communities in the UK, Russia and Colombia are breathing the dust from extensive opencast coal mines which power the UK’s remaining nine coal power stations. For those living closest to the mines and the people most directly affected by climate change, 2025 feels very far away. Many of these people’s homes and livelihoods will no longer exist by then.

Amber Rudd also said, “To set an example to the rest of the world, the UK also has to focus on where we can get the biggest carbon cuts, swiftly and cheaply.” Yet the consultation document only mentions coal power stations. We need a complete phase-out. This means ending the London Stock Exchange’s financing of global coal mining companies such BHP Billiton, Glencore and Anglo-American who operate Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia that deprives the surrounding area of water.

The government and power companies are failing coal workers by not acknowledging the inevitable end of the coal industry. In dialogue with the unions they must make appropriate plans to re-train their current, highly skilled, workforce for a green economy. There is no reason for workers to be left on the shelf. Short term there is a clear need for work by to restore the dangerous abandoned coal mines which litter the coal regions in Wales and Scotland. 

The government is currently asking for submissions to its coal phase-out consultation. Members of the public are taking to the streets to make their submissions with their bodies, to say “Don’t delay – ditch coal!” at two upcoming protests.



The first is at Aberthaw power station, South Wales, on Saturday 28 January. Aberthaw kills 400 people a year through its toxic nitrogen oxide (NOx) fumes. It is the dirtiest power station in Europe in terms of this pollutant. In the first half of 2016 it emitted almost four times as much NOx as permitted by European Union air quality regulations.

Pollution from Aberthaw contributes to respiratory illnesses for people living across South Wales, and as far away as Bristol and Pool, causing asthma symptoms, bronchitis in children and adults, hundreds of hospital admissions, and low birth weight in babies.

The Coal Action Network, Reclaim the Power, United Valleys Action Group and Bristol Rising Tide are heading to Aberthaw on the 28 January to say “Close Aberthaw – Green Jobs now”.

The consultation closes, 8 February 2017, Coal Action Network will gather outside the Department of Business Enterprise and Industrial Strategy, who will decide the future of coal. 2,900 small clay figurines will be assembled, acknowledging the lives which could be saved every year once we ditch coal.

A broad campaign against the coal industry stopped the last waves of planned new coal power stations. Another can end the industry completely.

For more details about coal and the protests see www.coalaction.org.uk

Inside the coal industry’s rhetorical playbook

By Steve Schwarze, Jennifer Peeples, Jen Schneider, and Pete Bsumek - The Conversation, January 8, 2017

If citizens have heard anything about the upheaval in the U.S. coal industry, it is probably the insistence that President Obama and the EPA have waged a “war on coal.” This phrase is written into President-elect Donald Trump’s energy platform, which promises to “end the war on coal.”

The often repeated slogan indexes a set of attitudes and assumptions about government regulation and environmentalism. The foremost if the belief that the (liberal, overreaching) federal government has it out for coal and the American way of life that coal supports.

If only the coal industry could get government and its regulations off their backs, the argument goes, thousands of jobs and our economy would come roaring back, a pledge Trump made during his campaign while touring Appalachian coal country. After the election, Trump doubled down on this rhetoric, saying that, “On energy, I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy – including shale energy and clean coal – creating many millions of high-paying jobs.”

Yet most analysts agree that the major front in the “war on coal” lies within the market itself. Natural gas production, experiencing explosive growth thanks to the rapid expansion of hydrofracturing, has dealt the biggest blow to King Coal and explains coal’s loss of market share for power generation.

Still, the “war on coal” rhetoric persists. But why? We investigated the public communication strategies used by the industry and found some consistent patterns.

Clean energy: The challenge of achieving a ‘just transition’ for workers

By Sophie Yeo - Carbon Brief, January 4, 2017

Tackling climate change is good for the economy, good for business and good for people. This is the narrative often pushed out by campaigners, researchers and governments around the world.

But while measures to curb emissions and reduce the impacts of rising temperatures will be good for the many, the few who work in industries affected by climate policies risk losing their livelihoods as the economy leans increasingly upon renewable energy.

Around the world, there is a growing movement demanding a “just transition” for the workforce, so that workers are not left in the cold as fossil fuels become consigned to the past.

Peabody and the Navajo tribe

Arizona’s Navajo tribe is one example of a community already fighting for a just transition. This Native American group signed a lease in 1964 allowing Peabody Energy, America’s largest coal company, to mine for coal on reservation lands. Now, 50 years later, many are battling against the impacts of this deal.

When they signed the lease, the company agreed to “employ Navajo Indians when available in all positions for which…they are qualified”. Since then, Peabody has been a major employer of tribe members — 90% of the 430-person workforce of its Kayenta mine are native people.

Yet, while Peabody has provided jobs and money, poverty rates on the Navajo Nation Reservation are more than twice as high as the Arizona state average, and benefits have come at the expense of the local environment.

The Navajo tribe has seen their water sources dwindle as Peabody has used the reservation’s aquifer to turn coal into slurry and pump it down a pipeline. Coal plants surrounding the reservation have polluted the air, clouding the view of the nearby Grand Canyon and other national parks. It is also a source of CO2, the primary contributor of human-caused climate change.

Members of the Navajo tribe, alongside the Hopi tribe that also lives in the area, are calling for a “just transition” away from coal — one that will see old jobs tied to the polluting coal industry replaced with clean and profitable work.

One group, the Black Mesa Water Coalition, is trying to create economic opportunities that will help to release the community from its reliance on coal. For instance, they have tried to revive the traditional Navajo wool market, developing partnerships with wool buyers and organising an annual Wool Buy.

It has also started a solar project, which aims to install a series of 20MW to 200MW solar installations on abandoned coal mining land, transforming the reservation’s old role as an energy provider.

The idea has gone global. In Ghana, for instance, the government has developed a programme to plant more trees, simultaneously improving the landscape, providing jobs, and offering a diversified source of livelihoods for farmers. Peasant farmers and the rural unemployed were involved in planting species such as teak, eucalyptus, cassia and mahogany, generating 12,595 full-time jobs.

In Port Augusta, a town of 14,000 people in South Australia, there is a plan underway to install a solar thermal plant to replace the town’s coal industry. This became even more urgent after the Alinta power station announced that it would close, potentially putting 250 jobs at risk.

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