Over the past several days, President Trump and his Cabinet have made it clear, again and again, that his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord is essentially about one thing --- jobs, jobs, jobs.
And there’s one category of workers who the president seems to value above all -- coal miners.
When running down statistics during his announcement on Thursday that claimed potential production cuts to various economic sectors if the agreement were implemented, Trump interjected upon reaching coal and ad-libbed, “I happen to love the coal miners.”
“In short, the agreement doesn't eliminate coal jobs,” he continued. “It just transfers those jobs out of America and the United States, and ships them to foreign countries. This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States.”
If this rhetoric sounds familiar, it should. Promising to bring back coal jobs is a Trump stump speech staple. In March, when signing an executive order that began rolling back President Obama’s environmental policies, the president surrounded himself with coal miners in the White House.
“Come on, fellas. Basically, you know what this is?” Trump declared. “You know what it says, right? You’re going back to work.”
But can the Trump administration really get coal miners back to work -- Paris agreement or not? Let's look at the evidence.
WHAT TRUMP GETS WRONG ABOUT COAL JOBS:
The short answer, according to most independent experts, is a definitive no. As Trump frames the issue, the environmental policies of the previous administration held back employment in coal. Those jobs, he claimed in his Paris speech, instead have gone overseas.
In its 1970s heydays, the high price of foreign oil made domestically mined coal highly sought.
But recently, it’s domestic forces that are most ailing the coal sector. The surge of natural gas in the United States, spurred by the development of hydraulic-fracturing techniques that extract raw fuel from once economically unviable parts of the ground, have undercut coal as a go-to fuel for generating electricity.
It’s a story that’s been told over and over and over again, including by The Post’s Darryl Fears:
But industry experts say coal mining jobs will continue to be lost, not because of blocked access to coal, but because power plant owners are turning to natural gas. At least six plants that relied on coal have closed or announced they will close since Trump’s victory in November, including the main plant at the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, the largest in the West. Another 40 are projected to close during the president’s four-year term.
As power companies switch fuels, “the amount of coal in the national energy generation mix (both Fuels and Electricity Generation) has declined by 53 percent since 2006,” according to a Department of Energy report released in January. Over the same period, electricity generation from natural gas increased 33 percent.
The shift was mirrored by employment, with jobs in natural gas and other cleaner energy resources rising and coal jobs declining, the report said. It cited a Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis showing that coal mining and support employment declined by nearly 40 percent between March 2009 and March 2016. In this shaky financial environment, coal companies are struggling. Two of the largest, Contura and Arch Coal, emerged from bankruptcy only recently, and another giant, Peabody Energy, recently filed a reorganization plan for its path out of bankruptcy, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
That story was published in March. But since then, if anything, the Trump administration has doubled down on this narrative. Take Trump’s top environmental law enforcer, Scott Pruitt. On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, the Environmental Protection Agency head said the number of coal-sector jobs has surged under the Trump presidency.
“Since the fourth quarter of last year to most recently, [the United States] added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector,” Pruitt told NBC host Chuck Todd. “In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs.”
That figure appears to be incorrect. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data pulled by the Environmental Defense Fund, there is an estimated 51,000 workers in the coal mining sector in total in the United States as of May.
The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report does say that the mining sector in general has added "almost 50,000 jobs" -- or more precisely, 47,000 jobs -- since a recent low in October 2016, which lines up more or less with the period Pruitt singled out. But that category encompasses all mining, including oil, natural gas and ore extraction. (BLS attributes "most of the gain" to a rise in jobs in "support activities for mining," without further breaking down that category.)
WHAT TRUMP GETS RIGHT ABOUT COAL JOBS:
Trump’s hope for growth in coal jobs is overly optimistic. But his administration can decelerate that decline, somewhat.
That March executive order began undoing many of Obama’s environmental policies, seeking to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, and added a moratorium on federal coal leasing.
If Trump succeeds in undoing these Obama-era policies, coal production could return to 2013 levels, or just under one billion tons of coal a year, according to a Columbia University analysis.
But that is just the best-case scenario. Under other scenarios in their modeling, the Columbia researchers found that coal production continues to decline.
But what Trump really gets “right,” in a purely political sense, about coal jobs is that it’s a winning issue for him -- so much so that any marginal gain in employment he is able to generate through deregulation in the coal sector can be touted as a political victory. This, despite fact that the president seems willing, according to a Post article last week by Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Michael Birnbaum, to ignore advisers who believe otherwise:
Some of the efforts to dissuade Trump from withdrawing actually had the reverse effect, further entrenching his original position. When Trump heard advocates arguing that the era of coal was coming to an end — something Cohn told reporters on last week’s foreign trip and also a frequent talking point by some cable news pundits — Trump only became more adamant that pulling out of the Paris pact could help rescue the U.S. coal industry, said a Republican operative in close contact with the White House.
Trump's deregulatory agenda is just beginning, and its effects (if any) on the day-to-day lives of those in coal country are months away. But Trump's supporters don't see it that way. As The Post's Robert Samuels reports from Campbell County, Wyo.:
The resurrected feeling of American possibility came not from pontificating TV pundits or a radio host in a studio miles away. Optimism arrived here because of what people were seeing: the unemployment lines getting shorter and their daily commutes getting longer.
Tom Gorton, 41, drove through those increasingly congested streets in his Arnold Machinery truck late on a spring afternoon, under the watch of mountains covered in white from a spring snowstorm. As Gorton settled behind his desk, he was heartened to see how messy it was with orders, one year after hundreds of layoffs at two nearby coal mines cost him his job and delivered a gut punch to a county that produces more than a third of the nation’s energy supply.
In another room at Arnold’s, branch manager Adam Coleman fixed his eyes on statistics tracking economic trends. Electricity had flatlined. To Coleman, this was good news.
“I can’t put fully into words this feeling I’m feeling, but it is much better,” he said. “I believe the economy as a whole is going to recover, and when it does, electrical use will increase. It’s not going down, so that’s a good thing. We’ll be back.”
In Gillette and surrounding Campbell County, people were beginning to feel the comeback they voted for. Unemployment has dropped by more than a third since March 2016, from 8.9 percent to 5.1 percent. Coal companies are rehiring workers, if only on contract or for temporary jobs. More people are splurging for birthday parties at the Prime Rib and buying a second scoop at the Ice Cream Cafe.
Maybe it was President Trump. Much was surely because of the market, after a colder winter led to increases in coal use and production. But in times when corporate profits are mixed with politics, it was difficult for people here to see the difference.
“I’m back to work,” Gorton said. “It’s real. Did Trump do it all? I don’t think so. But America voted in a man who was for our jobs.”
In another ad lib about coal in his Thursday speech, Trump noted "a big opening of a brand, new mine."
"They asked me if I'd go," he added. "I'm going to try.”
The president did not specify where the new mine was, but listeners pieced together that he was likely referring to the Acosta Deep Mine in Jennerstown, Pa. It will create 70 jobs -- a small but sufficient number.
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HERE'S HOW THE PARIS NEWS PLAYED OVER THE WEEKEND:
1) Scott Pruitt has learned he can be effective in the Trump White House by being brash like his boss. The Post's Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: "...over time, according to an industry lawyer familiar with the deliberations, the Oklahoma politician has learned that he can achieve more through forceful assertions. At the outset of the administration, the lawyer explained, Pruitt sought to soften the budget ax and get more political appointees on board by acting in conciliatory ways toward other senior administration officials. He quickly realized that was an ineffective tactic. 'The White House culture is much more: You go in hitting and attack...'"
2) How did the Republican Party get here? After all, one-time GOP president nominee John McCain ran on a platform of curbing greenhouse gas emission. The New York Times' Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton explain: "The Republican Party’s fast journey from debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist is a story of big political money, Democratic hubris in the Obama years and a partisan chasm that grew over nine years like a crack in the Antarctic shelf, favoring extreme positions and uncompromising rhetoric over cooperation and conciliation."
3) Democrats see an opportunity to turn climate change into an election issue. The Post's Abby Phillip and John Wagner report: "Trump, whose approval rating has hovered around 40 percent for most of his presidency, probably did not gain new converts with his decision, and Democrats now see an opportunity to further intensify the focus of their base in the 2018 midterm elections. They also foresee the climate-change decision as a key part of their broader argument to college-educated swing voters who have been among Trump’s weakest supporters."
4) The Post's Dan Balz writes that the Paris decision show Trump is much less malleable in his political views than some suggest: "President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement represents the clearest statement yet of convictions and principles that make up his worldview. 'America First' is more than a mere slogan to this president. It is the sum of long-standing beliefs — and grievances — about the way things are and ought to be."
5) Pruitt and others around Trump won't answer a simple question: Does he still believe climate change isn't real? The Post's Jenna Johnson reports: "...each time, Pruitt refused to answer with a 'yes' or a 'no,' telling reporters that as he and the president discussed exiting the Paris climate deal, the topic of climate change never came up."
(Though Nikki Haley, Ambassador to the United Nations, is willing to say: "President Trump believes the climate is changing, and he believes pollutants are part of the equation.")
6) With the health care or tax overhaul efforts floundering in Congress and the travel ban tied up in court, pulling out of Paris is just one of just a few non-asterisk wins for the president so far, The Post's Amber Phillips writes.
7) This official White House tweet needs an asterisk or two, however:
As explained on Friday, The Green Climate Fund, established in 2010, was not created by the Paris agreement. It is also not a "slush fund," or as Merriam-Webster defines it, "an unregulated fund often used for illicit purposes." The fund is legal.
7) The French disliked another social media post from Trump administration -- so they edited it, The Post's Peter Holley reports:
8) Michael Bloomberg is putting his money where his mouth is. The Post's Kristine Phillips reports: "Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised to provide up to $15 million in funding that he says the United Nations will lose because of President Trump’s decision to pull out from the landmark Paris climate deal."
9) German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff said the Europeans Union will move forward with China and India without the United States, Bloomberg News reports.
10) Here are the CEOs that still stand with Trump. Bob Iger and Elon Musk, the chief executives of Disney and Tesla, made headlines by saying they were leaving Trump's advisory panel. But the top executives at Pepsi, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, IBM and Intel, among others, have decided to stay on in the group, The New York Times reports.
11) On Saturday, Trump supporters rallied outside the White House at a "Pittsburgh not Paris" rally for withdrawing from Paris. But, many observers noted it was held in Lafayette Park, which houses the statue of an American Revolutionary War hero who was -- French:
Some noted the irony:
Trump supporters are holding a "Pittsburgh not Paris" rally...in Lafayette Park. The irony is thick as brie, and lost on them I fear.— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) June 3, 2017
12) Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised Paris withdrawal but won’t comment on human role in climate change, reports The Post's Emma Brown. "Certainly, the climate changes."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson distances himself a bit from the president.
Tillerson, asked about Trump's climate change decision, says it was "his judgment" to walk away from Paris agreement. Distances himself.— Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe) June 5, 2017
13) Former Secretary of State John Kerry on the prospects of a renegotiated climate pact: "He's going to go out and find a better deal? That's like, I mean, that's like O.J. Simpson saying he's going to go out and find the real killer.”
14) Former Vice President Al Gore on the Paris decision: "The administration comes off as tongue-tied and confused about the climate crisis because the truth is still inconvenient for the large carbon polluters."
His forthcoming documentary, "An Inconvenient Sequel," now requires an edit to feature Trump's announcement, The Wrap reports.
-- A TALE OF TWO SCHOOLS. Over the weekend, The New York Times and Washington Post both published stories on the challenge of instructing high schoolers on climate change in Trump country.
Reporting from coal-country Ohio, The Times' Amy Harmon found some animosity:
To Gwen Beatty, a junior at the high school in this proud, struggling, Trump-supporting town, the new science teacher’s lessons on climate change seemed explicitly designed to provoke her.
So she provoked him back.
When the teacher, James Sutter, ascribed the recent warming of the Earth to heat-trapping gases released by burning fossil fuels like the coal her father had once mined, she asserted that it could be a result of other, natural causes.
When he described the flooding, droughts and fierce storms that scientists predict within the century if such carbon emissions are not sharply reduced, she challenged him to prove it. “Scientists are wrong all the time,” she said with a shrug, echoing those celebrating President Trump’s announcement last week that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
And reporting from Idaho, The Post's Sarah Kaplan found amiability:
Jakob Namson peered up at the towering ponderosa pine before him. He looked at his notebook, which was full of calculations scribbled in pencil. Then he looked back at the pine. If his math was right — and it nearly always is — he would need to plant 36 trees just like this one to offset the 831 pounds of carbon dioxide that his drive to school emits each year.
Namson, 17, gazed around at his classmates, who were all examining their own pines in northern Idaho’s Farragut State Park. He considered the 76 people in this grove, the 49,000 people in his home town of Coeur d’Alene, the millions of people in the United States driving billions of miles a year — and approached his teacher, Jamie Esler, with a solemn look on his face.
“I think I’m beginning to understand the enormity of the problem,” the teenager said — a revelation that Esler later described as “one of the most inspirational moments of my entire career.”
-- Trump wants to boost our arsenal of nukes. But there's a problem: Overhauling the nation's nuclear weapon system will cost a lot more than initially thought. The New York Times' James Glanz and David E. Sanger report: "Mr. Trump has pledged to overhaul the arsenal, which he has called obsolete. But his challenge is growing: The first official government estimate of the project, prepared by the Congressional Budget Office and due to be published in the coming weeks, will put the cost at more than $1.2 trillion — 20 percent more than the figure envisioned by the Obama administration... 'It’s a staggering estimate,' said Andrew C. Weber, an assistant defense secretary in the Obama administration and a former director of the Nuclear Weapons Council, an interagency body that oversees the nation’s arsenal."
-- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has gotten very far away from where he started in his office's investigation into ExxonMobil. Initially prompted by reports in InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times that showed the oil company understood the risks of climate change early on by 1980s, the investigation is now focused on much more recent events. Saying in a court filing that some Exxon calculations "may be a sham," the New York attorney general's office said the company told investors it was using one estimate for the cost of complying with greenhouse gas regulations (a measure called the “proxy cost of carbon”), but internally was using a higher estimate instead.
The effect, according to the Associated Press: "The carbon-cost estimates are important because understating regulatory costs could lead the company to push ahead with financially risky projects. Schneiderman said if Exxon had used its publicly reported estimate instead of the lower internal figure, at least one oil-sands project in Canada would have been projected to lose money."
-- The rift between Qatar and other Arab nations could turn up the heat on oil prices, The Wall Street Journal reports.
-- U.S. meteorologists are not happy with Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement. To illustrate, here are some choice quotes from James Samenow's report in The Post:
- "I frequently believe the liberal elite consensus is wrong, hypocritical and partisan. However, on the issue of the Paris agreement, President Trump is flat out wrong and directly harming U.S. interests."
- "We have freedoms, we have rights, but what about personal responsibility? Future generations will judge us harshly,"
- "Use this moment not to sulk or lick wounds….use it to motivate you to engage and help preserve our home planet."
- "Still incensed even though I knew it was coming."
A small bright spot on climate change. Tereza Pultarova reports for The Post: "The world’s first commercial facility that can extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and resell it has opened in Switzerland."
- Lawmakers return to Washington after a week-long Memorial-Day recess. The Senate will reconvene Monday at 3 p.m.
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry continues his travel in Japan. Japan plans to sign an agreement during his visit to promote American liquefied natural gas exports, Bloomberg reported.
- The Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Project will host a chat on energy security in central and Eastern Europe. The discussion with Bill Ford on the future of mobility will start at 2 p.m. on Monday.
- The House will reconvene Tuesday at noon.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to vote on nominees for key energy roles on Tuesday. Starting at 9:30 a.m., the panel will consider David Bernhardt to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Dan Brouillette to be Deputy Energy secretary, Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Russian President Vladimir Putin bucks Trump and praises the Paris agreement.
See Ariana Grande sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at the Manchester concert for the victims of two terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom:
See other pop stars perform at the concert: