Muftic: Why Trump’s coal fired plans won’t create many jobs |

Muftic: Why Trump’s coal fired plans won’t create many jobs

Felicia Muftic
Courtesy Photo |

Donald Trump is trying to make good on a campaign promise: to reboot coal mining jobs by rolling back the EPA regulations that favor other fuel sources for power plant electrical generation. Does that mean back to dirty air and dirty coal? Not as much as Trump would hope for jobs or many fear for the environment. The horse is mostly out of the barn. Coal mining technology advancement uses fewer miners. Market forces are a driver since the cost of natural gas has fallen. States have their own regulations, such as Colorado, that favor converting plants to gas and increasing wind, thermal, and solar alternatives. Nationally nuclear is nearly 20 percent of generation. Gas is already generating more electrical energy (34 percent) than coal. (30 percent) That is good news for the environment since natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon into the atmosphere than does coal. 1400 local and state government entities, including Colorado, are pledged to uphold the Paris environment agreements so policy goals for clean air will continue regardless in parts of the US.

States such as Colorado, with a 2010 plan and regulations that favor converting plants from coal to gas, are already well on their way to completing their plans. Whether the lifting of regulations on coal to bring down the cost will be significant enough to make much of a difference is the question, given the investments already made in the switch to gas and alternatives. Switching back is an expense in itself. Colorado is unique since it produces both coal and natural gas within the state, which reduces transportation costs of both, unlike other areas of the country. 60 percent of Colorado’s electricity is generated by coal and a quarter is natural gas. Front range mega cities such as Denver fueled by Public Service have already switched their plants to natural gas.

The human cost of loss of coal jobs is not minor, but it can be mitigated by retraining skills for employment in manufacturing, truck driving, and alternative energy. Coal jobs in Colorado are already down 36 percent in three years and the state has launched retraining programs for jobs in alternative energy, though such jobs pay much less than coal miners once earned. In Appalachia and the west, mechanized strip mining is replacing labor intensive deep mining. Job retraining may be the key to families at least earning a living wage, if not returning to the glory days of deep coal mining.

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