How the GOP’s Climate Politics Hurts Coal Miners

By Denis Dison

A profound market shift towards cleaner fuels, renewables, and energy efficiency is dramatically reducing demand for coal. And the nation is finally addressing the burden of disease and the danger to the climate that unrestrained coal burning foists on us all. As this unstoppable market shift proceeds, many coal-mining communities are facing real hardship and need help.

Some political leaders have stepped up to offer coal communities much-needed help to meet these challenges. Others are engaged in pure demagoguery — they’re scapegoating the EPA for the coal industry’s much deeper economic woes, blocking any help for coal communities. They are holding coal communities hostage for political gain.

For two years running, President Obama’s budget has included the “POWER+ Plan,” $55 million per year to invest in coal communities, workers, and technology, to help them transition to new and growing segments of the economy. Hillary Clinton has gone a lot further, proposing a multi-year $30 billion plan to help coal communities and move us to a cleaner energy future that leaves no one behind.

How have Congressional Republicans responded? Cynically. Led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, they deny the reality of the transformation in energy markets. They falsely blame the president and the EPA for all of coal’s woes. They play with the pain in these communities by encouraging false hope that coal will make a comeback if we elect a Republican president.

In the old days, when Congress knew how to legislate, Senator McConnell might see the president’s POWER+ proposal and raise him, by putting more money into the effort. Instead, they have blocked any aid coal country families need. They’ve chosen to stoke people’s fears and anxieties, instead of helping them deal with reality.

This week the coal industry and its Republican allies have jumped all over Hillary Clinton for openly recognizing that coal is in decline. She has made a huge proposal to help these communities deal. Instead, they’re cherry-picking one sentence — the one that recognizes these communities have real problems and need real help — and trying to turn her into the villain.

She is providing leadership, and they are responding with demagoguery.

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists are warning the world that we must speed up the transition to clean energy and turn down our reliance on coal and other dirty fuels in order to avoid the worst consequences of a rapidly warming planet. In the U.S., market forces have jump-started this process. It makes sense to help families and communities whose lives are being transformed by the shift to cleaner energy. It’s cruel and unfair to delude them and hold them hostage for political gain.

Denis Dison is communications director at the NRDC Action Fund.