Job creation. Both on the campaign trail and ever since moving into the White House, Donald Trump has promised U.S. job creation. So then why is the president so fixated on reviving the coal industry while ignoring the vast economic benefits of renewable energy?
We all knew that Trump would roll back the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), a climate change initiative to regulate emissions from existing power plants. As of press time, the CPP hasn’t officially been dismantled, but Trump signed an executive order setting the process into motion in late March. During the ceremony, the president signed the order with a bunch of coal workers behind him – a photo op that again underscored the Trump team’s vow to “end the war on coal.”
Luckily, utilities and states across the country have taken the lead and reiterated their support for clean energy regardless of the CPP’s fate. For instance, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D-Va., recently signed an order of his own directing an agency to establish new emissions regulations on Virginia power plants, meaning the rules would essentially serve as a state-level CPP.
“The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it,” said McAuliffe. “Once approved, this regulation will reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from the commonwealth’s power plants and give rise to the next generation of energy jobs. As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void.”
Nevertheless, the Trump administration’s affinity for coal is cause for concern. Before initiating the CPP rollback, for example, the president signed a separate executive order repealing what he deemed “another terrible job-killing rule” designed to prevent coal mining companies from dumping their waste into rivers and streams. Although the action will obviously perpetuate harm to the environment, the Trump administration again did it while citing the so-called “war on coal.”
I greatly respect and appreciate this country’s proud tradition of coal mining, and the coal industry has a long history of helping keep our lights on, but the time for a transition to cleaner energy – and, thus, cleaner air – is now. Furthermore, although modern environmental policies have put restraints on the coal sector, analysts say the industry’s decline and job losses are actually the result of market forces, namely the usage of less-expensive natural gas but also the rise of increasingly cheaper renewables.
Trump needs to finally realize that renewable energy poses the best opportunity for job creation. A widely shared New York Times article, titled “Today’s Energy Jobs Are in Solar, Not Coal,” recently cited U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) statistics showing that the solar industry, alone, provided more jobs than the coal industry in 2016. As previously reported, The Solar Foundation found that solar accounted for one out of every 50 new U.S. jobs last year, and the industry’s growth outpaced that of the overall U.S. economy by 17 times. Over 260,000 Americans spent all or at least half of their time in solar-related work last year, and the DOE stats say that total jumps to almost 374,000 Americans when including those who only spent “some portion of their time” on such work. The astounding figures dwarf those of the domestic coal industry, which employed approximately 160,000 workers in 2016. Of course, renewable energy employment isn’t exclusive to solar, either: The wind industry, for example, supported over 100,000 U.S. jobs last year.
Coal country, itself, is even embracing solar. In Kentucky, a coal mining company is planning to install a large solar project atop one of its old strip mines. The company says the project would repurpose the site, whose coal has already been fully extracted, in order to generate power and provide new jobs for out-of-work coal miners. Moreover, the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum also recently revealed it was going solar in order to save money on electricity.
Talk about symbolism! Coal is the past, and solar is the future.
Why is Trump working to resurrect the coal industry, pollute the environment and, as shown in his budget proposal, slash funding for clean energy programs? Despite what he says, the decline of coal isn’t a war – it’s a progression of science, of social responsibility. Importantly, it’s also about economics. As a proud businessman, the president should recognize that and start supporting renewables. There are thousands of jobs to create.