At a May 2016 campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, Donald Trump, the presumed GOP nominee for president, told the faithful: “If I win, we’re going to bring those miners back. You’re going to be so proud of your president. For those miners, get ready, because you’re going to be working your asses off.”
At a November 2018 rally in Huntington, sharing the stage with Gov. Jim Justice and Carol Miller, then seeking the 3rd Congressional District seat in Congress, President Trump told the state’s coal miners: “You’re back in business.”
Everyone was happy. Everyone applauded. The politicians smiled.
When the news dropped last week that Murray Energy, the nation’s largest private coal company, had declared bankruptcy, it became the eighth coal mining operation since 2017 to go belly-up.
Prying eyes began combing the bankruptcy filing for details on the health of the industry. Turns out, free market forces – not a war on coal – were writing the obituary. Long the poor, red-headed orphan of the energy sector, renewables had been growing its share of the nation’s energy portfolio. That is what consumers were demanding. Corporations, too.
Business cultures across the country were responding to the concerns and lifestyle preferences of their employees and consumers. The younger ones, after all, are going to have to live with the ramifications of climate change, and they are pushing – with great urgency – their employers to go green. Corporate board rooms are responding. The brand is important to their bottom line.
As reported by Forbes, 48 percent of the Fortune 500 and 63 percent of the Fortune 100 are vowing to cut their greenhouse gases by increasing their use of green energy.
Pay no mind to the Trump administration, which, on Monday, formally notified the United Nations that it would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change. U.S. businesses and, in some instances, states have been ignoring the political hubris and bravado, making their own adjustments in the face of scientific fact that climate change is on the front burner – and heating up.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the notification on Twitter -- adopting the communication vehicle popular with his boss – and said the deal would impose excessive and intolerable burdens on the American economy. The U.S. approach on energy, he said, includes fossil fuels.
Well, Taylor Kuyendall, a journalist in the S&P Global Market Intelligence newsroom, studied the bankruptcy papers and found that Murray Energy, itself, is expecting a nearly 40 percent drop in coal volume by 2028 and, at the same time, sees annual revenue falling from $2.32 billion to $1.34 billion.
Meanwhile, according to Kuyendall, Murray’s bitter dose of truth serum included this: Average plant costs for solar and wind had decreased 47 percent and 11 percent, respectively, since 2013.
Cheaper is better, and cleaner seals the deal.
And here are some other stats that smiling politicians of a certain stripe are not likely to talk about on the campaign trail: There are no coal-fired power plants being built in the U.S. and coal exports have fallen 28 percent from a year ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Coal’s share of our nation’s electric generation portfolio will keep falling. It was 28 percent in 2018 and now stands at 25 percent. Next year’s forecast: 22 percent.
When running for president and making regular campaign stops in West Virginia, Donald Trump played blue collar economic anxiety to his benefit, telling folks what they wanted to hear -- not what they needed to hear. Candidate Trump vowed in 2016 to return the coal sector and its employees to the top of the energy hierarchy – and Republicans across the board in the Mountain State, even though they knew better, spread the same propaganda.
It was either a lie all dressed up to attract votes or somebody didn’t know what in the heck they were talking about. No matter, not a good look.
And now many of these same people are running for office again. You all might want to pay attention to the label on that bottle of snake oil this time around. Or give those bankruptcy filings a good read. Maybe both.
J. Damon Cain is editor of The Register-Herald in Beckley, West Virginia. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.