Coal Tattoo

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Well, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., was the first into my email inbox with a statement praising President Donald Trump for abandoning any global leadership by the United States in fighting the climate crisis. Here’s what the congressman had to say:

President Trump’s decision to withdraw is a bold statement that he will put America first even in the face of intense international pressure. The Paris Climate Agreement is a flawed deal that puts America’s energy needs and economic growth on the back burner, while transferring money and power to unelected international bureaucrats.

Moving forward, the best way to lead on this issue is to prioritize energy research and promote new technologies that will allow countries around the world to use all their resources – including fossil fuels – in the cleanest and most efficient manner.

I urge President Trump to seize this opportunity and champion technology to provide affordable, efficient and reliable energy. This alternative approach will not only benefit America, but will help the billions around the globe who remain in energy poverty.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wasn’t far behind with this statement:

While I believe that the United States and the world should continue to pursue a cleaner energy future, I do not believe that the Paris Agreement ensures a balance between our environment and the economy.  To find that balance, we should seek agreements that prioritize the protection of the American consumer as well as energy-producing states like West Virginia, while also incentivizing the development of advanced fossil energy technologies.

To be fair, though, I think Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s statement hit Twitter before I saw either of those emails:

Today’s announcement is a major victory for working West Virginia families. My mission is to continue to fight against unlawful regulations that pose a threat to jobs and the success of the Mountain State.

I’m sure other West Virginia political leaders will follow with similar political pandering about the president’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. And they can talk all they want about how this is going to help the coal industry, and throw around phrases like “prioritize energy research” and “incentivize the development of advanced fossil energy technologies.” But the fact is that the Trump administration wants to gut government spending needed to make “clean coal” — whatever that is, exactly — any sort of reality.

Tons of journalists and scientists — and business people — who are way smarter than me have provided lots of discussion about the very real dangers that this move by President Trump poses to our society (see here, here and here for example).  There are also indications from some that the clean energy revolution is far from over, and that all hope for dealing with climate change isn’t yet totally lost.

But if you’re here in West Virginia and were watching the president’s Rose Garden speech, you no doubt noticed repeated reference to coal miners, and coal communities, and how much we are apparently loved by this administration. That seems as hard to believe as it ever has been, if you can remember back a little more than a week ago, when we reported how the administration is looking to settle with the coal industry in a lawsuit brought to block one of the key federal mine safety protections put in place after the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.  The final wording of that eventual settlement might be educational in how much President Trump really loves coal miners.

And what about the rest of President Trump’s budget? What about plans to help struggling coal communities get back on their feet economically? Anyone who is really paying attention knows that the key programs coalfield residents rely on both just to get by — and more importantly to try to grow and lift themselves up — are being targeted for major cuts by the administration.

While coal markets have seen some improvements, there’s no indication that those are long-term changes or that the industry’s structural decline will be reversed. Most analysts tell us not to buy into the notion that the president’s action this afternoon will help generate jobs in other industries either.

It’s difficult for many political leaders, let alone average West Virginians, to really stomach all of this. It’s hard to be honest about it. But here’s how Paul Krugman of the New York Times explained the other day the place that West Virginians find themselves in right now:

So many of the people who voted for Donald Trump were the victims of an epic scam by a man who has built his life around scamming. In the case of West Virginians, this scam could end up pretty much destroying their state.