Trump is still a con manBy Nathan Campbell | 03/29/2017 11:00pm
CW / Kylie Cowden
But when it came time to put pen to paper, Trump showed who he truly was: a con man.
Trump’s recent proposal will strip away two vital programs aimed at promoting economic development in the Appalachia region: The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Economic Development Administration (EDA). The ARC focuses on providing funding for job training, entrepreneurship and business growth, and broadband infrastructure. Under President Obama, the EDA channeled a large portion of its efforts on coal country, putting its efforts toward attracting new industries and diversifying the local and state economies. These are two programs that enjoy bipartisan support from elected officials in the affected states, as well as support from those on the ground attempting to create change in the region.
His proposed budget would also eliminate federal aid provided under President Obama to laid-off coal miners who have lost their healthcare and pensions caused by the frequent bankruptcies of coal mining companies. Moreover, the budget proposal drastically scales back funding to the Department of Energy’s Fossil Energy Research and Development program, one of the few programs aimed at developing carbon capture and sequestration technologies which may be able to make coal power plants more viable.
Looking at these cuts, as well as the aborted effort to repeal Obamacare and toss millions off Medicaid, it appears Trump is so confident that he can revive the coal industry that he feels he can cut what little safety net Appalachia has left.
But Trump is delusional to believe that he will be able to follow through on his promises to bring back coal jobs. Coal will not return prosperity to Appalachia, no matter how many regulations he strips away. Despite President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and EPA regulations providing easy scapegoats for politicians, the coal industry has been fading away for decades.
Since 1980, 35 years before the Clean Power Plan was proposed, the coal industry has its labor force by 59 percent. Yet even while the labor force constricted, mining productivity remained mostly stable, indicating that automated mining equipment has steadily replaced miners. Coal companies, ever vigilant of their bottom line, are embracing automation and shunning their workforce. Even if coal were to thrive financially, why would the companies opt for more expensive human labor?
In addition to automation, coal is fighting off competition from natural gas and fracking. Throughout his campaign, Trump has frequently to promote natural gas, coal’s primary competition, by loosening regulations on fracking and shale oil extraction. If the price of natural gas begins to drop, coal will have no choice but to opt for even more cheap automation. The President promises to save coal, then turns right around and shakes hands with its greatest enemy.
And what about getting rid of “burdensome” regulations? It’s unclear whether massive regulatory rollbacks will have any effect on coal’s decline. The Energy Information Administration how the repeal of the Clean Power Plan will affect coal production. While the report shows a short-lived uptick in coal production, coal would still face a steady drastic decline for many more decades. Coal is quickly going out of fashion.
It is evident that coal either does not want the labor or will never be able to afford it. But this does not change the fact that Appalachia needs a boost. The region struggles with a depressed labor demand, crippling poverty, an opiate crisis and rapid depopulation. We can argue over how money should be allocated or what programs best serve the people there. And I hope we do argue, because maybe we could come up with a solution that could actually do some good.
But I would be hard-pressed to believe that cutting the safety net will finally inspire those in the region to “find a job” or “pull themselves out of poverty.” The problem isn’t lack of motivation. It’s a lack of employment. And until we figure out how to bring stable jobs to Appalachia, I would rather not see my fellow citizens living in pain and poverty.
Trump was able to pull off one of the biggest cons of the decade. He convinced a contingent of voters, understandably desperate for help, that he was their savior. But two months into his presidency, it is clear that Judas might be the more accurate comparison.
Nathan Campbell is junior majoring in environmental engineering. His column runs biweekly.