Greg Goebel / Flickr

While pursuing an ecocidal agenda friendly to extractive industries and Big Agriculture, President Trump and members of his administration, like EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, have repeatedly invoked America’s struggling coal miners.

If Trump is to be believed, the reversal of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan — which never even went into effect — and a controversial retreat from the Paris Agreement are two great gifts to coal country.

“We’ve ended the war on clean beautiful coal. And we’re putting our miners back to work,” Trump recently said. “Last week a brand new coal mine just opened in the state of Pennsylvania. First time in decades. Decades. We’ve reversed it. And 33,000 mining jobs have been added since my inauguration.”

He’s lying. Or, at the very least, he’s carefully and intentionally misleading all the struggling coal miners who voted for him, which is even worse. A fact check reveals that the 33,000 jobs he referenced are total mining jobs across all industries. Only 1,000 coal jobs have been added since January — hardly evidence of a resurgence. And that mine in Pennsylvania? It was actually approved during the Obama administration.

Bottom line: None of the Trump administration’s policies address the underlying reality that coal is no longer economically viable due to the basics of market economics. Natural gas, which Trump is pushing hard in a direct affront to coal miners’ livelihoods, is the real enemy. It has become cheaper than coal. So too has solar power, which will only drop in price as technology, availability and infrastructure continue to improve. Automation, which began claiming coal jobs even before production declined, is the final nail in the coffin for a doomed industry.

As long as these realities persist, nothing Trump is doing will reverse the plight of unemployed coal miners. Even coal executives agree.

Thankfully, Congress has been quietly working on a piece of bi-partisan legislation that will finally bring some relief to communities fighting for survival in post-coal America. It’s called the RECLAIM Act, and it just made its way through committee in the House of Representatives. Here’s what it does:

  • Directs $1 billion to clean up abandoned mines and reclaim land in coal country.
  • The money would come from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation (AML) Fund, which is bankrolled by fees paid by coal companies, and wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.
  • In an effort to diversify local economies, the funding would also assist depressed communities with economic revitalization.
  • Local communities that receive the funds will be able to give input on how the money is used.

So, in a nutshell, this bill would benefit the environment by cleaning up former coal mines, and give a much-needed boost to Appalachian communities struggling with unemployment and drugs. Everyone from Mitch McConnell to the Sierra Club is on board. It’s a slam dunk, right?

Not exactly.

President Trump has yet to offer his support for the RECLAIM Act or even utter a word about the legislation. And not surprisingly, the National Mining Association (NMA), a powerful lobby that works on behalf of all mining interests, opposes the bill.

The NMA even objects to the concept of the AML Fund, arguing the fines are unfair and the money isn’t being spent properly. Their opposition could be significant. Republican lawmakers beholden to groups like the NMA suddenly find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Who knows what they’ll do?

Coal miners sometimes get a bad rap, especially from environmentalists, but they haven’t done anything wrong. Their livelihoods have been pulled out from under their feet. They’re struggling and need our help. Their intentions are pure. They only want to work hard to support their families.

If Trump, mining CEOs and Republicans in Congress really want to support them, like they always say they do, then they’d be wise to fast-track the RECLAIM Act into law. Appalachia and other regions suffering from the collapse of coal have been waiting for help long enough. It’s time to put these passionate folks back to work, and give their communities a chance to rebound.

There is no better and more appropriate way to use the AML Fund. Let’s make it happen.

Brian Klonoski is a writeroutdoor photographer and the VP of Strategy at Planet Experts.

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