I’m thankful for coal miners

coal miners, climate change

One CCL volunteer tells coal miners, “Your hard work and sacrifices are appreciated. Now, your skills and spirit can lead us into the future.”

I’m thankful for coal miners

By Alex Amonette

Thank you, coal miners and fossil fuel industry workers. For generations, you and your families have provided the fuel to heat our homes, drive our cars, run our industries, and defend our nation. This work has come at great cost.

But now, despite your dedication, the economics of America’s energy is shifting away from coal. The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) says that “cheap natural gas, rising governmental regulations and a tight export market for metallurgical coal” is causing unemployment for miners. Even Duke Power is planning for a day when coal is no longer in its energy mix.

So, you already know the challenge: How do you maintain your livelihood and provide for your family? Nobody wants to force a whole town or industry into unemployment with no resources. But nobody wants an unstable climate that threatens our national security, either. Where does that leave us?

Resurgence Under President Trump?

Often, the simplest answer seems to be, “Bring back coal!” Make a few tweaks to the economic trends, somehow, and make coal a competitive energy option again. With President-elect Trump headed to the White House, this answer seems even more tempting.

Linda Smith, a resident of Southwest Virginia, told the Washington Post, “Men don’t know how to do nothing at all except work in the coal mines. If [Trump] can get some of that opened back up, people will be happy.” Another Virginia resident, Juan Lopez, said that if Trump can support the coal industry, “We might be able to have jobs two or three more years. But if not, we might be out by the end of next year.”

Unfortunately, for Trump to make any kind of significant impact to support the coal industry, explains Michael E. Webber in the New York Times, it “would require enormous market intervention like direct mandates to consume coal or significant tax breaks to coal’s benefit. These are the exact types of interventions that conflict with decades of Republican orthodoxy supporting competitive markets.”

The Way Forward

Thankfully, truly supporting coal country will not require that type of regulatory involvement. Nor does it have to mean struggling to recreate the exact type of success and prosperity of the past. Instead, supporting mining communities can happen through market-based solutions. With legislation such as a Carbon Fee and Dividend, conservatives can revitalize coal country with a market-based solution that could create 2.1 million jobs, according to a study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. At the same time it creates jobs, a price on carbon will save 90,000 lives thanks to better air quality and will add $80 to $90 billion in GDP.

To encourage those new jobs to come to coal country, states like West Virginia and Kentucky could provide incentives, similar to how Georgia has incentivized hundreds of thousands of jobs in the film and TV industry. States with communities formerly reliant on coal could offer their own tax incentives to clean tech firms, motivating them to relocate and take advantage of an at-the-ready workforce. In Kentucky alone, for example, a clean energy economy could create an estimated 142,163 construction jobs and 47,719 operation jobs—all of which could employ Kentuckians for 40 consecutive years.

On top of Carbon Fee and Dividend, legislators can pursue other measures to help your communities, such as the RECLAIM Act or President Obama’s recently announced $28 million to support development in 13 states hit hard by the decline of coal.

And here’s a secret that you already know: your communities are incredibly resilient. Even without legislative help, you’re doing what needs to be done to survive and thrive. For example, Coalfields Development Corporation puts people to work building quality, affordable housing in West Virginia. Their vision is “a revitalized people thriving in a renewed, more prosperous economy that is grounded in Appalachian values.”

Rusty Justice, a former coal industry worker in Kentucky, has founded a tech startup called Bit Source. He trains and employs former coal miners, creating high quality, modern jobs. “Our slogan is ‘a new day, a new way,'” Justice told NPR. “And it’s a new day here in Appalachia, and we’re trying to do things a new way.”

We all love our families, our children, and our grandchildren. We want them all to have healthy and prosperous lives now and in the future. You helped enable all of us to achieve the highest standard of living in the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, and we should all be grateful to you. Now, we need you to help us lead the world in doing things a new way, for this new day.

Alex Amonette
Alex Amonette is a freelance technical and grant writer/editor, lives in cattle and sheep country, and raises vegetables and hay.