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March 30, 2017


Trump very ostentatiously signed a presidential undoing of Obama’s environmental orders recently with coal miners and coal magnates at his elbow as he kept his campaign promise to bring coal back and the jobs that come with such a renaissance, a promise neither he nor anyone else could keep. He lied, of course, and as usual. Coal is not coming back; there will be fewer coal mining jobs as weakening demand and cheaper and cleaner power alternatives guarantee the coal mining industry’s demise – and signing a piece of paper will not bring it back. “The market“ (which Republicans claim to be their rule and guide) has decided that coal is a horse and buggy fuel that has seen its day and there is nothing Trump nor anyone else can do about it. We are no more likely to go back to coal than we are to abandoning motor vehicles and going back to horse and buggy and stagecoach forms of commerce and transportation.

Coal is a victim of cheaper and cleaner fuel alternatives, notably that of natural gas. We have enormous and import-proof quantities of natural gas in this country and many industries and even basic power sources for electricity have already converted to such gas as their fuel of choice and will not be reconverting to coal as a fuel source. Other industries are in the process of converting to gas as well, so demand for coal is tanking.

Bill Nye says that coal is the dirtiest power source going since burning it contributes massive amounts of toxins to a planetary atmosphere already on the road to overload with accumulated carbon monoxide and other toxic gases. Being able to once again blow the mountaintops off in Appalachia and pour toxins into the creeks and rivers that flow from West Virginia into the Ohio and Mississippi River systems by reason of Trump’s signature will not increase demand for coal, but it may well increase the 150 mile dead zone where the Mississippi runs into the Gulf of Mexico along with other downriver Midwest toxic runoffs.

Trump knows that coal is on the way out because the market has so decreed, and it is cruel of him to (with great fanfare) sign a piece of paper which he says will bring coal and coal mining employment back when the market and not his signature is the deciding factor and he has to know better. I can only guess that his narcissistic personality demands adulation on the cheap to gain some temporary perceived political advantage as he reopens the door to further environmental trashing of our air and water while lying to poor coal miners desperate to hold their jobs. Faint hope; unemployment in coal mining both as a result of decreasing demand and new and better human-supplanting automation combine to insure ever greater human unemployment in the industry.

I have more than a passing interest in this story. I am the son of a coal miner who worked in both deep and strip mines for 32 years, the middle son of three boys, and was raised in a coal mining camp for a period spanning the Great Depression and WW II. I know more than most the dangerous and hard scrabble existence of those who mine coal, especially in depression and war. My father quit school in the seventh grade “to go to work in the mines.” He died in a non-work accident at age 44. It was right after WW II and I was still a sailor located in Mobile, Alabama, after serving a couple of wartime stints in the South Pacific.

My mother told me of how his broken neck and paralysis prevented him from coughing up phlegm and how the nurses pulled long black strings of phlegm from his throat for the five days he survived the accident. Such a description told me that he was soon to be a victim of black lung disease in any event, as were more than a few who suffered from this condition in our little community, and that it was just a matter of time. There were coal miners in our community who died on the job, especially in the deep mines, or had an eye out, an arm or fingers off, or other such permanent bodily injury. These were good, hard-working people who were engaged in a dangerous occupation and many, like my parents, who were intelligent but undereducated.

These people found their messiah in John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers of America, who was a real bulldog in championing labor’s rights with the mine owners. Indeed it was said around our community that the three greatest men in history were John L. Lewis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jesus Christ – and in that order.

My two brothers and I wound up with five degrees among us since we enjoyed postwar opportunities that our intelligent but undereducated parents were denied, and I confess a sense of nostalgia when remembering the people I knew in my childhood and adolescence. Perhaps that explains my anger with Trump’s lies to such people these days, people who need not propaganda but retraining and help in siting businesses in their communities. Now a retired lawyer, I am with these modern day coal miners in spirit and wish them well as they navigate this changing world.      GERALD       E


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