Why Gutting the Clean Power Plan Won’t Save the Coal Industry

March 28, 2017

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With the stroke of a pen, President Trump took a step towards making good on his campaign promise of bringing back the now floundering coal industry. By gutting the Clean Power Plan which was the cornerstone of the US’ carbon reduction strategy – the Trump administration hopes to revive the coal industry in the United States.

But promises aside, the facts are there, and the numbers aren’t adding up.

In April of 2016, something happened that would signal a drastic change in our energy landscape: Peabody Coal, the world’s largest producer of coal energy – one of our longest standing energy sources was filing for bankruptcy. It was the latest and greatest in a spate of similar bankruptcies in the preceding six months, and definitively proved that the coal industry was on the rocks. But what caused it?


The Myth of Coal

Coal companies dropping like flies is great news for environmentalists and our planet. But it wasn’t world leaders committing to tackling climate change at the Paris Climate Summit that lead to the fall of the coal industry.

The free market has had a big part to say about it too. After years of decline, coal is now considered a pretty shaky investment, and hasn’t been widely supported. In fact, many major banks have pulled funding from, or refused to bankroll, new coal projects.

While much of this can be attributed to the low cost of natural gas, it is also partially due to newer technology. Solar and wind power are technologies and like all technology, they get more efficient and cheaper over time. Sounds like a smart investment to us.

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Some believe these dynamics are enough to stifle the coal industry indefinitely. After digging in a bit further, it’s confirmed here, here, here, here, and here.

So we can do good by our pocket books and the environment by supporting the transition away from coal. But what about the workers?

Coal in their Veins

As you can imagine, this not great news for the thousands of coal miners in the US. But some interesting things have been happening thanks to emerging employment opportunities. New bridges are being built that are supporting unemployed coal miners. For example, in Kentucky, which lost 10,000 coal mining jobs since 2008, ex-miners are landing new work in computer coding.

While it seems like quite a jump from coal miner to coder, Rusty Justice, a former coal miner, makes the transition seem much more rational: “The realization I had was that the coal miner, although we think of him as a person who gets dirty and works with his hands, really coal mines today are very sophisticated, and they use a lot of technology, a lot of robotics.”

The opportunities are there to shift this skilled workforce into new growing economies of the future, not economies of the past.


Outside of the United States

Spurred on by this changing landscape, the global opposition movement to coal is gathering speed. Here are a few snapshots from various anti-coal campaigns from around the world.

The Philippines

Given natural resources like abundant wind and year-round sunshine, the Philippines’ interest in renewables makes sense! But despite heavy investment in clean energy, plans are afoot for the construction of a 15-megawatt coal-fired power plant on the island of Palawan, known as the country’s last frontier on account of its sparse population and incredible biodiversity. Heavy campaigning by local activists and various environmental groups has successfully blocked the project so far, but Big Coal is not easily discouraged, and the fight rages on.


Back in 2010, plans were introduced to build a gargantuan 1320-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Bangladesh. The site? Right on the edge of the Sundarbans mangrove forest, a designated UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural ORganization) World Heritage Site and key ecosystem for the endangered Bengal tiger. Talk about a bad choice of location!

Naturally, environmental campaigners swiftly leapt into action, but, despite stiff opposition, construction has already begun. However, UNESCO recently joined forces with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in issuing a demand to scrap the project – follow IUCN on twitter for updates.


So much is wrong with Indian conglomerate Adani’s proposed $22-billion Carmichael coal mine in Queensland that it’s difficult to know where to start.

From jeopardizing traditional Aboriginal lands, locking us into another generation of fossil fuel infrastructure, and representing a direct threat to the survival of the Great Barrier Reef there’s enough to make the whole family angry. To add insult to injury, Adani has applied for a $1-billion loan from the Australian government for the construction of a new railway to service the mine. This has spurred on amazing resistance from Australian citizens, and they’re gearing up to take the fight beyond the courts and into the realms of non-violent direct action.

With global opposition to coal so high, the future has never looked better for renewable energy. Such huge increases in investment by countries like China, which just announced plans to invest over $350 billion into renewables by 2020, are hopefully a tell tale sign of a changing world that’s finally doing the right thing by our climate.


What Can You Do?

It looks as if the coal industry has been delivered a knockout blow, but we need to make sure it stays down! If we’re to stick to our climate-related goals, it’s vital that we continue the fight against coal and other dirty forms of energy. Sign the petition today, and add your voice to the millions demanding a zero-carbon future!