Old King Coal is resurrected

With a climate change sceptic at the EPA by his side, Donald Trump signals he has no intention of meeting pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions

 

Among the enduring images of the US presidential campaign were those of candidate Donald Trump in coal country, whether West Virginia or Kentucky, proclaiming himself the friend of the working man and the miner and of a declining industry notoriously associated with pollution.

He would roll back “anti-enterprise” environmental regulation and put the miners back to work, he boasted. It was a message that resonated in key swing constituencies such as Pennsylvania even though coal companies have long been a declining force in the US economy – they employed only about 65,971 miners in 2015, down from 87,755 in 2008.

On Tuesday, true to his word, he signed an executive order that calls on Scott Pruitt, his climate-change-sceptic administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to take steps to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, a set of rules regulating energy plants powered by fossil fuels. And, while the order says nothing about the landmark Paris accord on climate change which members of his administration are keen for him to repudiate, observers say it makes clear that the US has now no intention of meeting its Paris pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 26 per cent from 2005 levels by 2025. Others may well take it as a lead to follow.

But surely, at least it’s good news for coal miners who will get jobs back? And, Trump boasts, it’s also about US “energy independence”. Hardly. Even the coal industry, which has welcomed the president’s move, admits it will not be hiring any day soon. A few jobs may be saved in plants that were due to close soon. But the demand for coal is weak and the US already largely relies on domestic, not imported, sources for the coal, and increasingly for cleaner natural gas that fires most of the nation’s power plants. Increased automation has also been the source of most of the job losses.

No matter that it flies in the face of a world consensus on climate change . . . this act of environmental vandalism will play well with the base. “And a merry old soul was he . . .”

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