For four years, American coal miners were Trump’s most beloved workers. And he was going to reverse the seemingly inexorable trend away from coal as an energy source. He didn’t. His empty rhetoric did nothing to dent the collapse of employment by Big Coal that has seen the disappearance of half of America’s coal jobs since 2011.
Some coal miners believed Trump — and coal mine owners grabbed the cash offered to prop up the sagging industry — but realists knew Trump’s policies were a political stunt. And not a long-term solution to Appalachia’s economic decline. Biden’s Infrastructure plan, on the other hand, offers concrete hope for the benighted area. And has been embraced by Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America — coal’s largest union.
As Roberts explained:
“Anybody who would not accept jobs where jobs are desperately needed is making a horrendous mistake.”
“We’re for infrastructure. We’re for jobs. We’re for moving manufacturing into coalfields. We’ll work the president on that.”
No more pretty words. Biden is offering employment and programs backed with an infusion of cash. Aspiration is all well and good but it is a paycheck that feeds the kids and pays the rent,
Biden’s proposal to rebuild bridges, ports, and airports would boost demand for steel, which uses coal as a key ingredient. And it would provide well-paying jobs in alternate energy manufacturing, construction, and installation. The plan also calls for expanding access to broadband in rural areas like Appalachia, which is crucial to any future economic growth.
There is still pain to come in coal country. And the old ways are no longer supportable. As Roberts says,
“We’re coming to grips with the fact that we might lose more jobs here. We’re recognizing that change is coming fairly rapidly here.”
But Biden provides a light at the end of the tunnel.
Not that the plan is perfect. It doesn’t put an immediate kibosh on the use of coal, as climate activists want. Instead, it promotes the installation and application of carbon sequestration technology to blunt the effects of the recent increase in demand for coal brought on by the recovery from the pandemic recession.
Unsurprisingly — it is a miner’s union after all — the UMWA’s strategy, enumerated in their document ‘Preserving Coal Country’, starts with “Preserving UMWA Jobs”. Their language is echoed in the Biden’s administration’s infrastructure plan. But that’s politics for you. The administration has to sell the plan to the union. And the union has to sell the plan to its members.
The other two legs of the UMWA’s strategy are “Create New Jobs” and “Preserve UWMA families, communities” [sic]. As soon as those desires are met, the coal job goal will recede in importance. And the aims of climate activists, although delayed, will be met.
A benefit of the union’s endorsement is the pressure it will put on Joe Manchin to side with Biden and ignore the GOP’s pathetic $700 billion counter to the Democrat’s $2 trillion proposal. Which would leave Kyrsten Sinema on an island. Does she want to tell Arizona’s newly Democratic electorate that she’s against a bill the majority of them prefer? To be honest, I don’t know.
When Biden got the top job, it was on an ‘anyone but Trump’ wave. He was viewed as an anodyne, elderly, and probably ineffectual chief executive whose role was as a place-holder until his one unremarkable term ended. Then Kamala Harris would run for the top job in 2024. Instead, he has shocked even the most vocal progressives into silence and completely dumbfounded DC’s GOP. They have been reduced to complaining that Joe “is not doing cable news interviews” and his tweets are “limited” and “unimaginably conventional” — while asking, “Is he really in charge?”
The answer is, yes — he is.