West Virginia Primary Stirs Debate Over Coal

     (CN) – As presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump continues to position himself for the November election, he’s vowing to bring coal-mining jobs back to states that he now sees as critical to his presidential hopes.
     Trump has no competition in Tuesday’s West Virginia primary, his last Republican challengers, Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, having dropped out of the race, but he clearly believes that for him the road to the White House runs through the rust belt and the nation’s coal-rich states.
     It’s also now clear that he’s already running against Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination with just four weeks to go in the primary season.
     Speaking at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia on Thursday, Trump repeatedly attacked Clinton describing her as a “job killer” intent to hasten the demise of an industry to which many in the state have a generational attachment.
     As grist for his criticism, Trump pointed to a remark Clinton made last month when she said “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
     Clinton, who has rolled out an energy agenda heavily reliant on renewables and other “clean” sources of power, has since he’d made “a misstatement” while campaigning in the state.
     Trump, as is his custom, seized on the comment and ran with it. Prior to his appearance before a crowd of 13,000, his campaign passed out signs that read, “Trump Digs Coal.”
     He later declared that if he’s elected, “We’re going to put the miners back to work.”
     “You’re going to be working your asses off,” he said to loud applause.
     Coal has slumped in recent years for a number of reasons the biggest being the rise in environmental awareness and the resultant embrace of cleaner, healthier sources of power.
     In 2008, about half the electricity generated in the US came from coal.
     Today, it’s place in the nation’s energy mix has been cut substantially it’s down to about one-third having been supplanted by renewables, nuclear power and especially natural gas.
     The coal-energy industry has also been idling older plans in order to meet tighter clean energy standards.
     As a result, US coal production was down about 10 percent in 2015, according to the US Department of Energy, and it is expected to drop another 16 percent this year.
     Political analysts admit they were taken by surprise by the anger and frustration of large white, rural voters in the US that has manifested itself in the presidential race.
     And in coal country, the government, and its policy toward energy has been a source of the frustration – especially as other forms of energy have gained favor.
     In 2009, when President Obama took office, there were 84,600 coal-mining jobs in the US. In March, there were just 56,700, the US Labor Department said.
     Making comparisons to the job growth that’s occurred during the same period in the renewable energy sector is difficult because until 2012, the federal government lumped those statistics under one heading with the statistic from other sectors.
     Now, solar, wind, geothermal and biomass all have their own classification under the North American Industry Classification System.
     And that’s the key to finding renewables employment data, according to Rick Wise of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
     Armed with the classification data, Wise walked Courthouse News through the agency’s “Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages,” a regularly compiled analysis that is reported with a six-month lag time. In other words, right now the most up-to-date statistics are from the third quarter 2015.
     Looking at that data, private employment in the solar sector in the US went from 658 jobs in 2012 to 2,134 jobs as of September 2015.
     Similarly, jobs in the wind sector climbed from 3,190 in 2012 to 4,310 in September 2015; in the biomass sector from 1,291 in 2012 to 1,569 in 2015; and in the geothermal sector from 1,053 to 1,094.
     Clinton has grown more vocal about renewable energy as the campaign has gone on.
     In South Carolina in February, she declared the United States “isn’t a single issue country” and vowed to make new investments in manufacturing and small business, in scientific research … “enough clean energy to power every home in America.”
     Later in the campaign, Clinton lambasted Fla. Gov. Rick Scott for his refusal to acknowledge climate change.
     “It is the height of irresponsibility and neglect for anybody in a position of authority not to recognize that Florida will be the most at risk from climate change of any of our states,” Clinton said, adding that it is imperative that the United States become a global leader in the creation of renewable energy jobs and technology.
     Clinton’s solar energy plan would increase the number of solar panels in use more than seven-fold over the next five years. She also wants to see enough clean, renewable energy to power every home in America by the end of her second term.
     “This is not pie in the sky,” she says in appearances around the country.
     She also says dramatic investment and future development of renewable energy will determine who is the pre-eminent super power in the world.
     “It’s either going to be China or Germany or us. I want it to be us,” she said.
     As for Trump and coal, the candidate has not said definitively what he would do to increase mining jobs in the US.
     An advisor has suggested the first order of business would be a review of Environmental Protection Agency regulations affecting the industry.

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