Few things are crueler than offering people false hope. But that’s just what President Trump did when he came to Charleston, West Virginia Tuesday night after releasing his climate plan.
In a speech filled with absurdities — “You know what you can’t hurt? Coal. You can do whatever you want to coal. Very important” — Trump’s key message was the biggest lie of all: “We are back. The coal industry is back.”
In fact, coal has been on an irreversible decline for years because alternatives like wind, solar, and natural gas are cleaner and cheaper. Building and running new wind and solar farms is now cheaper than just running existing coal plants in many places.
Indeed, the Trump administration’s own Energy Information Administration just reported that over the past 12 months, U.S. coal production has dropped by 4.2 percent compared to the previous 12 months.
Trump’s newly announced climate plan for coal-fired power plants will neither reverse nor even slow coal’s steady decline. In fact, since the plan is built around pushing coal plants to use coal more efficiently, it will slightly speed up the decline — according to EPA’s own analysis.
EPA concedes that absent any new climate rules, market forces will cause coal production for the electric power sector to drop 20 percent by 2025. But EPA also concludes that under Trump’s plan, it would drop as much as 24 percent.
The EPA further projects that coal production for power generation will keep dropping and by 2035, plan or no plan, it will be 30 percent lower than it is today.
As for coal jobs, they will be lost at an even faster rate than coal production, since they have been a victim primarily of productivity gains in the last few decades.
So coal is not coming back nor does any serious analyst in or out of the Trump administration believe such nonsense. Yet Trump traveled to West Virginia to offer more false hope.
In one part of the speech, Trump’s con job entered the realm of cruelty.
Trump’s claim, however, about how both he and the coal industry have supposedly made West Virginia incredibly successful is wrong. He asserts the state was “one of the last” economically before he was elected, but now “West Virginia on a per capita basis is one of the most successful GDP states in our union.”
In reality, according to Trump’s own Commerce Department, West Virginia ranked 47 out of 50 in per capita GDP in 2017 — and its GDP grew only 1.3 percent in the first quarter of this year, putting it 37th among all states.
But the cruelest part is when Trump says:
Remember I was here just before the election and I brought a couple guys into a room and I said fellas, supposing we teach you a new skill, supposing we teach you like how to make little widgets or gidgets or gadgets. These are big, strong coal miners. They said “sir, we want to dig coal.” I said “I agree with you. I agree.” Right. Remember that? Their grandfathers did it, their fathers did it. It’s incredible and it’s really happening. We are back. The coal industry is back.
Trump’s words are met with cheers from the West Virginian crowd in response to him saying there’s no need to try to help them or the state in any way — with training programs of any kind — because he’s brought back the coal industry.
Except he hasn’t. And he can’t. And his own EPA has conceded that reality.
Trump’s efforts to create an alternative reality where West Virginians and the entire country can ignore both economics and climate science is among the cruelest of his lies.