The Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S. released a new paper, “Trump’s Energy Plan: A Brighter Future for America’s Workers?” , which urges the labour movement to “unwrap the package” and examine the proposals in Trump’s America First Energy Policy , released on the first day after his Inauguration. LNS reviews and refutes the major planks in that policy, including the “bring back the coal industry” claim, and states, “Our hard-hit coal miners and communities deserve a plan that will enable them to find decent livelihoods in the future, not one that lures them with illusions that it will bring the coal industry back.” LNS has previously published its plan, The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs, Saving Money , written by Synapse Economics .
The most recent installment of the America First Energy Policy was released on March 28: the Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth , replete with the illusory promise to bring back coal jobs. Summaries and explanations are easy to find: from the Office of the White House Press Secretary ; the Brookings Institute ; “The Giant Trump Order is Here. What it is, what it does” in The Atlantic; “Trump just gutted U.S. policies to fight climate change” from Think Progress . Dismay and outrage is also widespread, summed up by Vox :“This is it. The battle over the future of US climate policy is officially underway”. Even the mainstream Washington Post brings out the battle imagery in its headlines: “The standoff between Trump and green groups just boiled into war” (March 30) , and “The assault on climate science is evil, and evil must be fought” (March 31).
Although disguised in the language of job creation for coal miners, the Executive Order goes beyond the attack on the Clean Power Plan and coal-fired power plants – empowering the Cabinet to review and rollback other Obama-era policies, including limits on methane leaks, a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions. The Editorial Board of the New York Times sums up the scale of the attack: “President Trump risks the Planet” (March 28) .
The claim of “bringing back coal jobs” has been disproved repeatedly and convincingly. Typical is the press release from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis , which sees “zero employment impact” from Trump’s measures, stating, “Market forces overwhelmingly favor natural gas-fired electricity generation and renewable energy, and the trend away from coal will continue”…. Coal is simply being outpaced. It is an industry in decline, and the fundamentals are inescapable.” “A simple way to see why Trump’s climate order won’t bring back many coal jobs” in Vox refers to the Department of Energy Annual Energy Outlook 2017 , which projected that without the Clean Power Plan, U.S. coal consumption would rebound only as far as the historically low levels of 2015, when there were approximately 63,000 coal miners in America. Today, there are approximately 50,000. Compare this to the solar workforce, which created 51,000 jobs in 2016 alone – to bring the total number to 260,077 U.S. solar workers, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census. Even the CEO of Murray Energy, the largest privately-owned coal company in the U.S., acknowledged in a report in The Guardian, that coal jobs are not coming back.
What the Trump Executive Order could do, according to modelling by consulting firm the Rhodium Group, is to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emission reduction to around 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 – a far cry from the Paris Agreement pledge of 26 %, and effectively ceding climate leadership to the European Union and China. The Sierra Club USA provides a thorough discussion of the environmental impacts in Donald Trump Orders EPA to Unwind Clean Power Plan in Setback for “Vitally Important” Clean Air (March 28) . The reaction of major environmental groups such as Environmental Defence Fund, Earthjustice, and Natural Resources Defence Council is summarized in “Environmental groups vowing to fight Trump’s Climate Actions ” in the National Observer (March 29).
Is there any cause for hope? Yes, according to analysis by Inside Climate News in “Hundreds of Clean Energy Bills Have Been Introduced in States Nationwide This Year” (March 27). This provides a state-by-state summary of bipartisan clean energy legislation, stating: “At least eight states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont—are considering legislation to dramatically boost their reliance on clean power in the coming decades. These bills specifically call for increasing the mandate to obtain electricity from sources like wind and solar, a common form of escalating quota called a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Currently, 29 states in the nation, along with Washington, D.C., have them and eight others have voluntary targets.”
Voices of Business are also challenging the Trump agenda. In “Climate change is real: Companies challenge Trump” in The Guardian (March 29) , the CEO of the We Mean Business coalition calls the transition to a low-carbon economy “inevitable”, and the Executive Order “regrettable “. Further, he states: “This announcement undermines policies that stimulate economic competitiveness, job creation, infrastructure investment and public health.” Similar sentiments appear in the Business Backs Low Carbon USA statement signed in November 2016 by over 1000 companies and investors. The statement calls for the U.S. economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy, and re-affirms “our deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.” The list of over 1000 companies is here .
Finally, and giving everyone a voice: the People’s Climate March on Washington D.C. on April 29 , organized by the coalition which emerged from the 2014 March in New York City and around the world. The Labor Network for Sustainability will be leading a labour contingent in Washington – see their Facebook page for information , and see the People’s Climate March website for locations of sister marches.