by Walter Brasch
Black letters against a yellow background. Black letters against white. White letters against black. On yard signs. On T-shirts. On baseball caps. All with the same message: “Trump Digs Coal.”
Donald Trump says there are “ridiculous regulations [on coal] that put you out of business and make it impossible to compete.” He says if he is president, he would reduce those regulations. Those regulations that Trump doesn’t like are enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect miners and the public.
In speech after speech in the coal-producing states, he has said, “We’re going to get those miners back to work . . . the miners of West Virginia and Pennsylvania . . . [In] Ohio and all over are going to start to work again, believe me. They are going to be proud again to be miners.” He also says the voters in coal-rich states “are going to be proud of me.”
As expected, his comments are met by extended cheers. However, other than splashing rhetoric to get votes, he doesn’t say how he plans to put miners back to work, nor does he address the issues of the high cost to create “clean coal,” or that a president doesn’t have absolute power to reduce federal legislation. But his words sound good to the mining industry in Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, the top five states in coal production.
Trump is also a vigorous proponent of using fracking to extract natural gas and oil, a position that has led the American Energy Alliance (AEA) to endorse him for the presidency. In 2012, : “Fracking will lead to American energy independence,” a statement parroting a major argument of the oil and gas industry, but which is inaccurate. In March, he erroneously said, “Did you know, if they fracked in New York [which has a ban on fracking], New York would lower its taxes, would have no debt, would have made a fortune. Instead, Pennsylvania [which permits fracking] took all the money.” Like the AEA and Chambers of Commerce, he disregards the effects upon the environment and public health. But, he also sends a mixed message about fracking. He argues that local governments and voters should have the right to ban fracking. It is a position the oil and gas industry, as well as numerous politicians oppose, but which moderate environmental groups accept as a reality.
Hillary Clinton is also trying to get votes and, like Trump, she sends a mixed message. She says she supports the use of fracking to extract oil and gas but has also said, long been in favor of states and cities within states making up their own minds whether or not they want to permit fracking.” When she was secretary of state, she spearheaded the development of the , which promoted fracking and the use of fossil fuel as an energy source. In 2010, Clinton told a meeting of foreign ministers, “Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel available for power generation today.” Two years later, she convinced Romania to overturn its ban on fracking and sign a 30-year mining lease with Chevron.
Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and the Libertarian party’s nominee for president, supports fracking but wants increased regulation and oversight. He says he will “keep an open mind” about fracking, and argues, “the fact that in Pennsylvania you could turn your faucet on and get water before fracking, and afterwards you could light it—that’s a concern. That’s a real live concern.” Both Johnson and Bill Weld, former governor of Massachusetts and the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee, are strong environmentalists.
Dr. Jill Stein, a physician and the Green Party’s nominee for president, is the only major nominee to oppose fracking and the use of fossil fuel energy. In the 1990s, as an environmental activist, she was a leader in the protests against coal plants in Massachusetts. She and her party demand a ban on fracking, and push for the development of renewable energy. “In the real world,” says Stein, “wells leak and pipelines spill. The supposed climate benefits of burning natural gas are being revealed as nothing more than greenwashing by the fossil fuel industry.” Fracking, she says, “is a national threat to our water, our health, and our future [and] it’s time to work for a national ban on fracking and a just transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030.”
Several states have placed moratoriums on the use of fracking. In June 2013, the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee approved a resolution to establish a moratorium, but the party leadership ignored the will of the delegates. The delegates to the Democratic National Convention in June rejected a resolution to support a moratorium or ban on fracking.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s primary opponent, is adamant that fracking must be banned in order to protect both the environment and health. However, in the West Virginia primary Sanders took 55 percent of the Democratic vote to Clinton’s 29 percent. In May, he said, the U.S. needs “to combat climate change to make our planet habitable for our children and our grandchildren, [but] we cannot abandon communities that have been dependent on coal and other fossil fuels.” He proposed spending $41 billion to “rebuilding coal mining communities and making sure that Americans . . . all over this country receive the job training they need for the clean energy jobs of the future.”
Pandering for votes and to the fears that unemployment and bankruptcies in the fossil fuel industry will increase under any administration other than his own, Donald Trump overlooks a reality that workers are not melded to their jobs. If given an opportunity, as Sanders and others have proposed, most skilled workers in the fossil fuel industry would leave the mines and the oil and gas fields to be re-trained for jobs in the cleaner renewable energy fields. Jobs in the fossil fuel industry decreased by 18 percent last year, according to a study by the Brookings Institute. Long-term losses could be 226,000 to 296,000 drilling-related jobs, according to the Institute. While the fossil fuel industry is cutting back on employment, jobs in solar energy increased by 22 percent last year, and jobs in wind energy increased by 21 percent. For the first time, jobs in the renewable energy industry are more than for the entire fossil fuel industry, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Trump, other politicians, and the conservative Chambers of Commerce that support fracking should be looking forward to renewable energy employment rather than backward at fossil fuel employment. If they do so, they will capture the voters not from fear but from opportunity.
[Dr. Brasch is a social issues journalist and professor emeritus from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. His current book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]