Choking on Coal

The Trump administration’s shift to coal is dangerous both to public health and the environment, not to mention bad for the country economically

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Every morning before dawn, a line of trucks begins to form outside of a city. Stretching for miles on a two-lane road, these trucks inch ever so slowly into a brown haze that obscures everything around for miles. This is the reality every day in Linfen, a city in central China. Once known as “the Modern Fruit and Flower Town,” Linfen has been transformed from a city of natural beauty to one of the most polluted cities in the world over a few short decades due to excessive coal mining.

The United States and the rest of the world are turning their focus to the Asia-Pacific region as it quickly becomes the home of the most dynamic economies in the world. President Donald Trump himself recently returned from a 12-day trip to Asia. Instead of focusing on renewable energy, Trump appealed to world leaders to invest in the American fossil fuel sectors to push exports all over the world. But in countries like Indonesia and China, this shift back to fossil fuels comes at a great risk to populations which have been devastated by the environmental impacts of oil and coal.

Examples of this backwards slide include Vietnam, which announced it is reverting to coal production after failed ventures into renewable energies. Japan, too, is moving ahead with plans to close down all of its nuclear reactors and replace them with coal plants. But to examine how the United States can have an impact on this, it is critical to consider why countries are choosing to shift back to fossil fuels. In Japan, the choice comes down to whether or not they should spend $36 billion on United States solar technology, or build cheaper coal plants. When Trump and Congress choose coal over subsidizing the growing renewable energy industry, they drive up the cost of renewable energy around the world, and the people of Japan and Vietnam suffer because of it.

Under the Trump administration, several factors look to benefit the coal industry greatly. With his dismantlement of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which invests U.S. money in renewable energy, Trump is also stripping away the environmental restrictions, enabling coal production to ramp up in the United States. Though the repealing of the Clean Power Plan will marginally restore coal’s place in the United States, this action will do more harm to the environment than economic good. That’s because a strong coal industry damages the health of thousands of Americans, while providing economic benefit to almost no one.

The CPP, had it been preserved, would have prevented 1,500 to 3,600 premature deaths per year among Americans, according to the EPA. Now, lives are being held at risk over the the Trump administration’s agenda to skirt a reported $33 billion in cost of coal regulations. Furthermore, the U.S. Energy and Information Agency predicts coal will only regain one percent of its lost market share with the repeal of the CPP, underscoring the waste of such an action.

But the biggest issue with the Trump administration’s shift back to coal is the actual oversight of the industry. With the repeal of Obama-era regulations and subsequent government oversight, the coal industry is ripe for environmental and human catastrophes. Putting aside the many mine accidents and health risks associated with coal miners in recent years, focusing on restoring coal leaves miners unprepared for a changing economy. The principal concern for Trump should be employment for Americans in general, irrespective of the industry. Since 1990, renewable energy has seen over 1200% growth in size as it produces larger and larger shares of consumed energy. Investing in coal mining leaves coal miners overlooked for critical job training as the renewable energy sector inevitably takes over, giving them an ultimatum on their employment.

Though it is the poster child for pollution, China is not the only country which suffers from the harms of fossil fuel use. In America, cities such as Los Angeles are routinely choked with smog, causing thousands of premature deaths every year. And with Trump now at the helm of the world’s largest economy, slowly but surely the world is beginning to slide back towards the waiting embrace of the coal industry, with great damage to people both here in America, and abroad.