Executive order poses environmental rollbacks, said to help coal miners

A statue of a coal miner sits in a small garden in downtown Shawnee on Oct. 20, 2016 (Photo by Patrick Connolly)

In a region dominated by the coal mining industry in the 19th and early 20th century, President Donald Trump was hoping to follow through on his campaign promise to help coal miners with his executive order rolling back on environmental regulations.

Trump’s March 28 order rescinds six Obama-era executive orders aimed to curb climate change by reducing carbon emissions, as well as launching a review of the Clean Power Plan. The order is said to identify all policies that are obstacles to “American energy independence,” according to White House officials, though local experts doubt it will actually increase employment in coal mining.

David Bayless, the director of the Ohio Coal Research Center at Ohio University, said the U.S. is transitioning away from coal and no executive order will change that.

“It’s probably going to make (coal miners) feel better that their voice is being heard in a political sense,” he said. “Is it going to create more coal jobs? No. Coal is receding in terms of use in electrical power generation because natural gas can be used to make electricity cheaper.”

Even if companies were to mine more coal, employment in the industry will not increase because of the trend toward mechanization, Geoffrey Buckley, a geography professor, said.

“Mines have been more mechanized so we don’t need all those workers,” he said. “These policy changes will not make a difference in those jobs.”

Trump’s executive order also has significant implications for the environment. The order rescinds President Barack Obama’s 2016 presidential memorandum calling climate change a threat to national security.

The order aligns with Trump’s threat to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, including his appointment of Scott Pruitt, a climate change “denialist” as the head of the EPA. Though he has not formally moved to disassemble the agency, Trump has proposed significant cuts to the budget by almost a third.

Under Obama, the U.S. was on board with the Paris Agreement, a global effort to stop temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

“The U.S. was on track to meet that target under Obama pretty easily because we had been reducing our dependency on coal,” associate meteorology professor Ryan Fogt said. “We saw coal emissions decrease under Obama’s administration. … We won’t meet our target, but we’ll be putting more into the atmosphere.”

Fogt said an economic and environmental solution would be to improve clean energy production.

“People like myself think there are a lot of job potentials in clean energy sources that could be solutions to both the economy and a cleaner way of producing energy,” he said.

Despite what Trump may say, Bayless said the market is not going to change, even if the Clean Power Initiative were to be eliminated.

“I don’t think from a political standpoint, there’s anything that can be done to stimulate coal mining jobs,” he said. “That’s unfortunate for coal miners because a lot of them really did think the current administration would be able to change the landscape and make coal competitive again, but there’s no president who can change that.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu

Originally published for The Post on April 11, 2017.

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