The headline on Nov. 20 screamed from the pages of the Standard and Poor Global Market Intelligence website: “US coal jobs down 24 percent from the start of Trump administration to latest quarter.”
In the story attached to the headline, the analysis showed:
“Average quarterly coal mining employment fell 23.6 percent from the first quarter of 2017, when Trump took office, to the most recent quarter. Coal production is down 31.5 percent in the third quarter compared to the first quarter of 2017.”
Of course, if you live in one of the coal-producing communities of Central Appalachia, you didn’t need Standard and Poor to tell you what’s happening on the ground here.
Since the administration of President Barack Obama used regulatory rule-making to bypass the traditional law-making process in regard to environmental laws and, in particular, targeting coal, we’ve watched as our signature industry fell to a shadow of its former self.
The reality is the Obama Administration never really needed to get the regulations in place to see coal use plummet. Energy producers and other industries reliant on coal saw the writing on the wall and began the process of shifting away from what was formerly known in the region as “black gold.”
In fact, it could be argued that the Obama Administration never really had a “war on coal,” but instead launched a devastating and war-ending air strike at the outset of conflict, leaving the enemy with neither the ability nor resources to mount a counter-attack.
Despite the pledges of every politician who has crossed into Eastern Kentucky over the past several years that they would fight against “Obama’s war on coal,” there was really no battles to be won or changes which could turn the industry’s fortunes.
There will always be a need for coal, but the days of the industry being a massive force not only locally, but nationally, are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Even a pro-business Republican like Trump couldn’t, or simply didn’t, do anything to turn the tide of the nation’s move away from coal. And it would be laughable to consider Obama’s former vice-president, President-elect Joe Biden, as the president who’s finally going to improve the industry’s fortunes.
Recently, mayors from eight midwestern cities, including from Huntington, W.Va., and Morgantown, W.Va., as well as Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher, wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post entitled “We need a Marshall Plan for Middle America” and which was a plea for the establishment of a program such as that which was used to rebuild Europe after World War II.
This is what we need, this is what must happen going forward. Save the empty platitudes about the “war on coal.” That ship has sailed and there’s likely to be no redirection.
Whether President Biden will face up to the legacy of the president under whom he served two terms and the impact the administration had on Central Appalachia remains to be seen. However, it is up to us, the people, to demand that we be heard, not forgotten in the shuffle.
The people of Central Appalachia are capable. The people of Central Appalachia are creative. The people of Central Appalachia are dedicated. And the people of Central Appalachia are ready for a new day. Sometimes, however, we need a little help getting to our feet after being knocked down. This is one of those times.
Whether it comes in the form of a Marshall Plan or another way of developing a new economy – a more sustainable and less damaging industry — here, the people of Appalachia deserve the chance to show the nation that, just as we fueled the Industrial Revolution, we can fuel the next step into the future as well.
Is anyone in Washington D.C. listening? Time will tell.