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Trump’s Latest Executive Order Is Neither ‘Pro-Jobs’ nor ‘Pro-Environment’

The Trump administration is targeting the Clean Power Plan in the name of jobs, but environmental regulations are not to blame for the demise of the coal industry.
A truck drives by a mound of coal in Cattletsburg, Kentucky. (Photo: Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

A truck drives by a mound of coal in Cattletsburg, Kentucky. (Photo: Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump appears set to sign an executive order today dismantling the Clean Power Plan, the President Barack Obama-era policy aimed at combating climate change that was implemented in 2015.

“For too long, over the last several years, we have accepted a narrative that if you’re pro-growth, pro-jobs, you’re anti-environment,” Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said over the weekend. “We can be both pro-jobs and pro-environment.”

Unfortunately, dismantling the Clean Power Plan is neither good for the economy nor the environment. Here’s why:

  • The plan would have reduced atmosphere-polluting emissions by 350 million metric tons per year in 2030, saving some $14-$34 billion per year in pollution-associated health costs, according to the World Resources Institute. Those excess emissions will certainly contribute to economically costly climate change. Rising temperatures in states like Missouri and Illinois will cut crop yields by up to 70 percent by the end of the century, and the annual cost of coastal storms and hurricanes is expected to rise to $35 billion in the next 15 years as sea levels rise.
  • Deregulating the coal industry will not bring back jobs. Coal has been chiefly undercut by the growth in other energy industries and productivity in general, according to Sam Adams, the director of WRI’s United States branch. “Consider that even with recent production declines, the nation produces nearly 50 percent more coal than we did in 1940, but employs one-eighth the number of miners,” he wrote. “The underlying shift to less labor-intensive methods of mining coal means that the industry will never see employment levels comparable to where they were decades ago.”
  • Even as jobs in coal disappear, there’s plenty of work in other energy industries. Nearly as many Americans now work in wind energy (102,000) as in coal (160,000). Meanwhile, some 374,000 Americans work in solar and more than 2.2 million in energy efficiency-related work, according to the Department of Energy.

If the Trump administration is concerned about former and current coal miners, it might try investing in job re-training programs, instead of doubling down on an environmentally destructive and economically unviable industry. Re-training programs were born in the 1960s to replace jobs lost to automation, and have since blossomed into programs that offer not just training but relocation funds and other financial benefits, as Dwyer Gunnreported in Pacific Standard.

The administration’s latest budget proposal, however, includes deep cuts to the organizations that administer such re-training programs. For example, cuts to the Department of Labor would threaten job centers created by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which would leave more than 160,000 workers in the coal country states of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky without access to employment services.