Saturday, November 28, 2020
Nov. 28, 2020

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In Our View: Trump’s approach to coal industry out of step

The Columbian
Published:

President Donald Trump continues to place propping up a dying industry ahead of the health and well-being of the American people, environment and economy.

Last week the Trump administration finalized weakening an Obama-era rule aimed at reducing polluted wastewater from coal-burning power plants. This rule change, The Associated Press reported, “covers requirements for cleaning coal ash and toxic heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and selenium from plant wastewater before it is dumped into waterways.”

The 2015 rule enacted under former President Barack Obama was projected to yield about $500 million in public health and environmental benefits by cutting pollution by 1.4 billion pounds annually. Trump EPA officials say their revision would reduce pollution an additional 1 million pounds per year. Critics call that claim specious, as it’s based on companies taking additional, voluntary steps that they might ultimately decide against.

As we’ve previously noted editorially, in the past five years, coal production has dropped by about one-third, and the industry employs about 50,000 people. A year ago, according to Forbes, renewable energy industries employed more than 3 million Americans, outnumbering employment in all fossil fuel industries by a ratio of 3 to 1.

Instead of rolling back environmental standards that are unlikely to save the coal industry, but certain to endanger Americans’ health, the administration would be better served in supporting programs to help coal workers get training to find jobs in other fields.

That is the approach that TransAlta, the coal-fired plant in Centralia, has taken as it prepares to shutter by 2025. The company has agreed to invest $25 million into energy technology projects, and $20 million in economic and community development, among other initiatives. The community development money includes $8 million for payouts to displaced workers, and $1 million to pay for education and retraining opportunities.

For someone who touts himself as a savvy businessman, Trump is markedly out of step with many big business leaders. As Forbes reported in April 2019, “Older thinking has held that economic growth and environmental protection are at odds with one another. But the modernist approach holds that the two are aligned — that using clean energy technologies is resulting in more efficient operations as well as lower emissions and enhanced brands.”

It notes companies such as Google, Facebook, Walmart, General Motors, Disney and Salesforce are targeting 60,000 megawatts of nonutility renewables deployments by 2025.

Respect for free-market forces is supposed to be a cornerstone tenet of conservativism, yet the president continues to seek any avenue to “save coal” regardless of its inevitable sinking fortunes due to the abundance of low-cost natural gas and climate change concerns.

He’s also pushing to fast track other projects that are environmentally suspect, such as the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas terminal on the Oregon Coast. The state of Oregon has not approved that project, and residents and environmental groups are fighting it vociferously.

We realize Trump campaigned in 2016 on helping the coal industry and rolling back environmental regulations, but market forces and big-business initiatives underscore he’s out of step with the times. We understand wanting to leave one’s mark, but a dirty smudge isn’t much of a legacy.

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