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Trump's coal crusade will cost



A number of things could be said to be emblematic of the regressive slide in the US since Trump took power. The deterioration of the relationship between the president and the press, the undermining of the federal bureaucracy via 'deep state' theories, as well as heightened tensions around immigration.

Trump in miner's helmetThis week, Trump signed the so-called Energy Independence executive order, which amounts to open slather for oil drilling and coal companies. It turns off policy settings made under the Obama administration, including a moratorium on coal leases on federal land and methane emissions limits in oil and gas production.

It directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to 'review' its own Clean Power Plan, which is tied up in legal challenges from Republican states. The EPA is set to lose 31 per cent of funding in the 2018 budget.

The attack on the EPA, together with the executive order is a colossal setback, given the prospect of runaway climate change. But it could play well in coal country, where Hillary Clinton was never forgiven for saying, 'We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.' Obama's energy policies were dubbed as a 'war on coal'.

Trump may well declare that he is '(cancelling) job-killing regulations'. People will eventually find that it is not emissions-related regulation that is killing jobs. Since 2014, oil prices have dropped 58 per cent. Other projects in shale, oil sands and deep-water drilling are not proving as profitable as expected. All these are linked to job contraction.

Moreover, a report earlier this year from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) notes that the main threat to coal in the US isn't excessive regulation but a business model that mines 'too much coal for too few customers' with fewer workers.

It is rather the renewable energy sector that has been growing jobs. Last year, the number of jobs in wind generation in the US rose by 32 per cent. Solar power businesses created jobs 12 times faster than overall job creation. The 'green workforce' worldwide grew in 2015 by 5 per cent to 8.1 million, with trends pointing to even greater numbers. Trump, as ever, is going against the grain.

In a way, it also exposes the facetiousness of free market pushers. Global energy markets, nudged in part by the Paris climate treaty, are rewarding transitions to renewable, clean sources of power. Yet the response from the Trump administration — and Republicans in general — has been to prop up terminal industries and present it as government withdrawal.


"In terms of economics and national security, Trump's dismantling of responses to climate change highlights gross incompetence and ideological mayhem."


It is not just the simplistic, convenient dichotomy between jobs and the environment that will become harder to maintain. The notion that there is no intersection between national security and climate change is being challenged, not least by military experts. 

Trump likes to talk tough; he once said he knows better than the generals. His budget allocates an extra US$52 billion to the Department of Defence (DoD). The truth is that national security is far more layered than fighting extremists or hackers. In 2015, the DoD described climate change as a 'threat multiplier', due to the humanitarian or military interventions that it is likely to trigger. In September 2016, at the tail-end of the election campaign, 25 military and national security experts warned that climate disruptions pose significant risks to military infrastructure (such as inundation of coastal bases), and will increasingly drive international conflict and mass migration.

The current Defense Secretary James Mattis has also long held the view, including during his time as the US Joint Forces command in 2010, that climate change is a real-time security risk. In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee this year, he cited the thawing of the Arctic and drought in troubled regions as challenges for defence planners.

Both in terms of economics and national security, then, the Trump administration's dismantling of responses to climate change highlights gross incompetence and ideological mayhem. The best that Americans could hope for is that reality catches up soon. It will and it must.

Were our own government any wiser, or less incompetent and ideologically driven, we might be able to afford some pity for Americans. That is not the case.


Fatima MeashamFatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She co-hosts the ChatterSquare podcast, tweets as @foomeister and blogs on Medium.

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, Donald Trump, climate change, US politics



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Existing comments

Let's hope the DoD spends some of that money on research into non fossil fuels to support communities in remote or hostile regions.Like space research, the benefits flow to the rest of the community. And then some more on assisting veterans who live with ongoing illness after their service. Including housing the many homeless among them.

Elizabeth Mulrennan | 30 March 2017  

Big business is never on the side of the worker. It has to be forced to cooperate with it, and it is not the workers' friend. Stopping the 'war on coal ' will not help workers or increase jobs - in fact, the workers will be among the first to suffer. The President may understand business, but he seems to know very little about economics. This is seriously frightening. Thank you, Fatima - it's good to get some facts on what's happening, though perhaps when ignorance is bliss 'tis folly to be wise....

Joan Seymour | 30 March 2017  

.' Obama's energy policies were dubbed as a 'war on coal' Unfortunately for Trump, the 'war' on excessive use of coal cannot simply be cancelled by otherwise (?)intelligent politicians. If they do not stop its incursions, the war will be waged by the Environment, and take the form of Global Warming, resulting in extreme weather conditions and their consequent devastations, and rising sea levels. A terrible legacy to leave for future generations.

Robert Liddy | 31 March 2017  

"A terrible legacy to leave for future generations." That assumes there will be future generations. Global warming may well kill off almost all life on the planet. I suppose the slime that lives in the hot springs at the ocean floor will probably survive.

Frank S | 31 March 2017  

Thanks Fatima for a very informative summary of some really important issues. I see a sharp cartoon of Trump (or Turnbull) sitting reversed on a 3-seater bicycle, peddling the opposite direction to Common Sense and Future Well-Being.

Dr Marty Rice | 31 March 2017  

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