31 March 2017

Ah, Nostalgia for the Days of Coal

Billy Joel sang about the depressing steel manufacturing economy in the 1980s. “Allentown” became a blue-collar anthem, especially for miners and manufacturers who were losing their jobs in the Rust Belt.

If that song wasn’t warning enough, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the coal industry has been in decline for the last 30 years, long before the regulations of President Obama’s era were put into place. Miners have had a long time to think of a back-up plan in case coal mining didn’t work out. Instead of welcoming new research, innovations, inventions, or opportunities, however; instead of thinking outside the box or pulling themselves up by the bootstraps they claim to celebrate as part of the American spirit, coal miners decided to wait for the day that time would turn backward. That day came earlier this week with the rollback of the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan was never fully put into effect because it’s been held up in legal battles, which means it can’t fully be held responsible for a decline in the coal industry. Also, eliminating the plan is going to take several more years so it’s unlikely to bring many new jobs in during the current administration reign. And, true to character for any of this administration's policies, it is light on details and likely to face legal challenges.

The plan was rolled back for the sake of nostalgia more than anything else. Innovations have reduced the number of actual workers needed for coal. It’s also ironic that a population of people who claim to loathe government interference sat around waiting for more government interference to get their jobs back.

The current administration is full of macho men with frail egos, or at least they’d like to think they are macho and they would like to appeal to that demographic of voters. In their minds, white men still rule this world and the idea of anyone else earning more money or having more economic power is threatening.

One excuse people use for wanting these jobs back is that they or their families are tied to the land. But America was built on people moving to where new opportunities are. It was built by people who found new land, a new place to start or settle their families. If it’s that important to be manly and support a family, figure it out. Move. People in the military do it. People in law enforcement do it. Even the representatives sent to Washington on our behalf make that sacrifice to either move their families or live away from them to get a job done.

With a party in power that’s happy to deregulate industry and seemingly indifferent to adequate health care, what’s going to happen when cases of chronic bronchitis and other coal dust-related illnesses begin rising? If it’s anything like what happened to oil-industry workers in Louisiana, the coal industry will hire lawyers to prove that it’s just a coincidence that there’s an abundance of these diseases among coal miners.

America was built on change, ingenuity, and exploration. It was built by people who moved forward to forge new paths rather than go backwards to outdated technologies. I have very little sympathy for a group of white men who feel sad that their health-risk and pollution-causing industry is no longer relevant because most Americans want progressive change, not regressive policies.

For further reading:
Trump Takes Aim At A Centerpiece Of Obama's Environmental Legacy (NPR)
What Trump Misses About Energy Jobs In America (NPR)
Coal Mine Dust Exposures and Associated Health Outcomes (Report by HHS, CDC, and NIOSH)
The entire coal industry employs fewer people than Arby’s (Washington Post)

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