In 2013, then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the Senate floor to excoriate the Obama administration’s environmental policy and its impact of coal jobs in eastern Kentucky.
Noting a recent listening session in Pikeville, Kentucky, McConnell sought “to put a human face on the suffering that is being felt in Appalachia due in large part to this administration’s war on coal.” He displayed a photo depicting two of “over 5,000 Kentuckians who have lost their jobs in the war on coal, two of the casualties from the president’s war on coal.” The longtime EPA critic drew a direct line between the agency’s emissions standards and the loss of jobs for his constituents.
The claim — which was a major focus for McConnell throughout President Barack Obama’s second term and a frequent club for his attacks on Democrats — was always unfounded. In September, the director of Harvard’s environmental economics program told the New York Times that, the real “primary cause of the tremendous fall in coal employment is low natural gas prices, due to increased supplies of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing.” But McConnell kept repeating it anyway.
President-elect Donald Trump vowed throughout the campaign that he would repeal climate restrictions and to “end the war on coal and the war on miners.”
“If I win we’re going to bring those miners back,” Trump said at at a May rally in West Virginia. “All of it’s getting safe and as it gets safe they’re taking it away from you in a different way. “These ridiculous rules and regulations that make it impossible for you to compete, so we’re going to take that all off the table folks.”
In a Friday appearance at the University of Louisville, he tamped down any expectations that coal jobs would come back. “We are going to be presenting to the new president a variety of options that could end this assault,” McConnell told attendees. Then he added “Whether that immediately brings business back is hard to tell because it’s a private sector activity.”
McConnell also noted that he did not intend to spend any government dollars to help those who have lost coal jobs and may not regain them. “A government spending program is not likely to solve the fundamental problem of growth,” McConnell argued. “I support the effort to help these coal counties wherever we can but that isn’t going to replace whatever was there when we had a vibrant coal industry.”