Trump and jobs for coal miners
Trump's Monday energy speech
Yesterday's local "newspapers" used an AP report to cover candidate Trump's energy address. Consequently, they missed his comments about reviving the coal industry. (That, or they're saving them for a later editorial.) Other newspapers did cover them. Here is what the Wall Street Journal said:
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump promised Monday to repeal a host of energy and environmental regulations, save the coal industry and lift restrictions on energy sales.
The WSJ then pointed out the difficulty of making this happen:
But many of those promises may be challenging to fulfill. A new president cannot easily cancel most regulations, which require a lengthy, exacting process to enact or withdraw.
More broadly, many of the coal industry’s woes are driven by world-wide market trends that are likely to persist regardless of the plans of any particular president.
The Journal also quoted our local coal company owner:
Robert Murray, the controlling owner of the nation’s largest privately held coal mine and a Trump supporter, called Mr. Trump’s promises “a very good start.”
But did Obama kill the coal industry?
The Washington Post, in addition to fact checking his speech, also ran a separate article that corrected Trump's assertion that Obama and his EPA single-handedly killed the coal industry.
But equally bad news for coal has come in the form of very cheap natural gas, which has arrived in this country precisely because the fracking-driven shale gas industry — with which Trump is also seemingly aligned — has thrived during Obama’s presidency.
Sure enough, new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Tuesday found that cheap natural gas is not only continuing to compete strongly against coal for a larger share of our electricity generation, but that it is perhaps faring better than ever in that competition.
Is retraining miners a workable and cost-effective solution?
Like the Post's conclusion, a new study in the Harvard Business Review starts with a familiar conclusion:
It is clear that coal is no longer a competitive form of electrical generation.
However, the study uses that premise to ask an important question: What if all U.S. coal workers were retrained to work in solar?
The one energy sector that is growing at an incredible rate is the solar industry—and it is hiring. . . .
Their conclusion is more optimistic than ones that I have seen previously:
Our study found that this growth of solar-related employment could benefit coal workers, by easily absorbing the coal-industry layoffs over the next 15 years and offering full-time careers.
Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we looked at all current coal industry positions (from engineers to mining and power plant operators to administrative workers), the skill sets required for each (for example, specific degrees and amount of work experience), and their respective average salaries. . . .
The results of the study show that a relatively minor investment ($180 million to $1.8 billion, based on best and worst case scenarios) in retraining would allow the vast majority of U.S. coal workers to switch to solar-related positions. Of course, training times depend on type of job and prior experience.
Technology Review makes a similar recommendation:
President Obama’s proposal to devote $60 billion to making community colleges free for all qualified students, and to expand vocational training and apprenticeships for jobs in expanding fields, could be one way to start.
For the coal miners of Appalachia, such efforts could offer a chance to move beyond an extractive industry that for decades brought jobs, but not prosperity, to the region. “There is too much focus right now on ‘How do we replace these 10,000 good-paying jobs for people with only a high school diploma?’” says Peter Hille, the president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Berea, Kentucky. “That’s not the right question. The real question is ‘What can we do to create a new, diverse, and sustainable economy in a region?'"
A good question.