Although I don’t live there anymore, I was born and raised in Eastern Kentucky so I am acutely aware that the economic impact of the coal industry in the area I call home cannot be understated. The coal business is at the core of the fabric of society in which I was brought up. Our towns were built on coal and for the past few years many of them have been dying along with it. I don’t have the words to articulate how sad this makes me.
One thing that all conservatives agree on is that President Obama’s plan to combat climate change is the worst. There is no denying that Big Coal has suffered and continues to suffer under his administration. In 2014, a record number coal plants closed with stock prices at many of the largest coal companies dropping dramatically. Obama’s EPA is pegged as enemy number one for all the coal industry’s troubles. I am admittedly not educated enough on the regulations and their direct affect on the industry to know whether the hatred of Obama in coal country is 100% deserved or not but I do know that the business has dried up over the last 7 years.
It certainly could be the EPA that has killed coal – although the Clean Power Plan hasn’t even legally gone into effect yet. In fact, Kentucky – along with 23 other states – just moved to block the CPP in Court and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is leading efforts to block it in Congress. Coal also has its fair share of challenges other than government regulations including really low natural gas prices, a renewable energy market boom, and a global shift in thought that believes there are negative consequences of mining coal that outweigh the positive.
During Tuesday’s debate, Rand Paul said that his first act as president would be to repeal the CPP – which would require states to reduce their dependence on coal-fired power plants in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a third by 2030. Paul said the plan has “devastated my state” – again, it isn’t in effect yet – but he is presuming that thousands of coal jobs could be lost as a result – and he is correct in that presumption. The GOP solution to the coal problem is to block the regulations limiting gases that may cause climate change, rather than laying the groundwork in coal country for it to survive in a new century powered by clean energy.
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton produced a $30 billion dollar plan that would use tax incentives and grant funding to support public health, education, and entrepreneurial initiatives in coal communities nationwide. Putting an actual plan on paper is something that no other presidential candidate has done so far – not one Republican; not another Democrat. Other candidates talk a big game about helping coal country but they haven’t actually given us a plan as to how they would make that happen. Clinton just did.
You can read the full plan here. The plan is targeted at rebuilding infrastructure – highways, bridges, railroads, broadband networks, etc. The Clinton campaign argues that it would create new jobs to replace those lost in the coal industry and would grow new industries.
I’m not going to get into the entire climate change “debate” here because it would take way too long. However, the difference in plans to save coal communities from our political parties is centered around climate change. Democrats generally accept climate change as true and so their plans focus on bringing new jobs and industries to affected regions – like my home. The overwhelming majority of Republicans do not accept climate change and so their plans focus on blocking regulations to limit greenhouse gas; keeping the coal industry alive as a result.
No matter who gets elected to the White House in 2016, I hope he or she has a plan to help the communities of Eastern Kentucky – and others across the country – that are being hurt by the decline of the coal business. You make like Clinton’s plan or hate it but at least she’s produced concrete ideas on the steps her administration would take to – in theory – help coal communities. That’s more than I can say for anyone else – including the candidates that yell about it the loudest.