The president of United Mine Workers of America said Wednesday that the coal industry is not “back,” despite President Donald Trump’s claims.
Cecil Roberts said at an event in Washington that his message to Trump and others running for president in 2020 is: “Coal’s not back. Nobody saved the coal industry.” He said coal-fired plants are closing all over the country, calling it a “harsh reality.”
Trump held a rally in West Virginia in August 2018 where he touted his administration’s proposal to allow states to set their own emissions standards for coal-fueled power plants. He declared at the time, “We are back. The coal industry is back.”
The Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule could result in 1,400 more premature deaths by 2030, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, while the Obama-era plan it will replace would have avoided 3,600 premature deaths due to pollution from coal-fired power plants by that year. The Obama Clean Power Plan was set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to the climate crisis, by up to 32% compared with 2005 levels by the same year.
Roberts said Trump cutting back some of the Obama-era regulations that limited coal-fired power plant emissions “perhaps kept the coal industry … in existence” but that plants are still closing “dramatically” and the market keeps shrinking. He said coal mining jobs will continue to be lost because of what he called bad public policy, and “eventually there will be no market here or only the strongest companies will survive.”
More coal-fired power plants have closed under Trump than during former Obama’s first term, largely because of free-market forces.
Roberts, who said he believes the global climate crisis is real, said the only thing he hears 2020 presidential candidates talking about “is how they’re going to save all the coal miners in this country or get rid of all the coal miners in this country. Do it tomorrow, you still are not solving climate change.”
He said technology that removes carbon from the burning of coal needs to be developed to solve the climate emergency.
Roberts also pleaded with the President to tweet that he believes coal miners who are entitled to pensions should have them. He noted that Trump has repeatedly said he loves coal miners, and he asked the President to “just make us 15 seconds of his day,” adding that he wasn’t being critical of Trump.
In July, retired coal miners and advocates went to Capitol Hill to urge members of Congress to protect their pensions, according to the United Mine Workers of America’s website. They urged support for the Miners Pension Protection Act, a bill that was introduced early this year in the House of Representatives by Rep. David McKinley, a West Virginia Republican.
“The UMWA’s pension fund is headed towards insolvency, with almost all of the coal companies that paid into the fund now bankrupt,” the website reads.
CNN’s Casey Riddle, Nicky Robertson and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.