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Don't Treat Coal Miners Like They're Stupid

 

 

By Jake Novak


April 5, 2017 - Just as soon as President Donald Trump signed those executive orders rolling back President Obama's emissions rules, a cavalcade of experts immediately chimed in with hard-edged comments about how "useless" and "misleading" the whole process was.


Here are just a few of the headlines oozing with know-it-all certainty and elitist environmental snobbery that had all the subtlety of a slap across the face:


The implicit and often explicit message in these and many other pieces is that President Trump thinks the coal miners are stupid enough to believe that his executive orders will bring their jobs back when free market forces like automation and cheaper natural gas are the real reasons for the industry's contraction.


But when it comes to thinking people are stupid, it's the so-called experts who seem to be assuming that miners don't know the truth or at least as much about their own industry as the folks sitting in newsrooms in New York and Washington, D.C.


Now this doesn't mean those same pundits and experts are wrong about some of the basic environmental science. Coal has been a legitimate focus for environmental activists for decades. It is indeed dirtier and produces more emissions than natural gas, petroleum, and of course solar and wind power.


It's the demonizing and denigrating of the miners themselves that is a bridge too far.


To hear the know-it-alls in Washington or even on Wall Street tell it, the miners and mining companies believe Trump will "bring their jobs back," and will soon feel betrayed when those jobs don't come back.


But Coal News Publisher and Managing Editor Bill Reid has actually spent a lifetime listening to miners and mining companies. Reid says the miners are a lot more savvy than most people give them credit for.


"Contrary to popular belief, the modern coal miner is well-educated and highly experienced in operating multi-million dollar mining machinery," Reid says. "All they want is a level playing field without government interference so they can compete."


The "government interference" part is the key to understanding everything. The miners know they may lose their jobs to market forces, they just don't want Washington piling on or speeding up their economic demise.


The market they can accept; politically-charged policies made to look like environmental concern they cannot. And they suspect it's politically-charged chicanery and not legitimate environmental concern because of the increased political and financial relationships Democrats have cultivated with alternative energy companies, lobbyists, and investors. That includes green investors like Tom Steyer, who spent millions of his own money on Democratic candidates in 2016 and has become one of the most influential powers in the party.


And who could blame them for having those concerns after Hillary Clinton, even during the height of campaign scrutiny last year, had the temerity to say: "We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business," during a town hall event in March. The Clinton campaign later backtracked from that comment, but the damage was done.


Speaking of the free market, Reid's relative optimism about preserving or even creating a few more coal jobs is not unfounded. Warrior Met Coal set its IPO range Monday valuing the company at $17 to $19, proving there are still investors willing to put their money in the supposedly dead commodity. And even natural gas industry leaders admit their prices are not going to stay low forever, justifying optimism about coal's future ability to compete at least at some level.


But don't those libertarian, accept-the-market-results miners want government help when it's offered? Like perhaps the big tax breaks and credits solar and even the regular oil companies receive? That's another misconception. When it comes to the government, it's not that they expect Washington to stay out of things completely, they just want a seat at the table.


William Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Miners Association, spoke out about this at the height of the presidential election last summer. Raney insisted that miners and mining companies had been allowed no input at all in the formulation of the Obama administration's environmental policies.


Whether Raney is referring to the fact that no coal lobbyists made a visit to the Obama White House or the simple fact that President Obama's coal curbing regulations came in the form of executive orders and not Congressional legislation, it seems like he has a point. Miners want to work with government just like everyone else, or at least as much as many of the nation's still less viable industries got to do with the previous administration. Big difference.


Yet somehow, many in the media who live far from coal country and probably never visited decided the most important thing to do in response to the Trump executive orders was to compose stories about what anyone who can read financial news has known for decades - that the coal industry has been shrinking mostly because of natural gas and automation. That's not helpful.


What is helpful is finding out about the educated opinions and concerns of thousands of American workers in an industry that is vital for our daily energy needs. Of course, listening to legitimate voices before enacting powerful economic rules is what democracy and representative government are all about. And in that context, it's decidedly anti-democratic to dance on an industry's grave instead of giving its representatives a seat at the table while it still produces crucially needed goods, services and jobs.


So no, President Trump cannot prevent the coal industry's demise. That will likely happen over the next century... or two. But he and his new policies can ensure that it dies of natural causes and not a mob-induced euthanasia.