As promised, Trump and his administration have done away with the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule in the name of saving coal mining jobs. The regulation was previously enacted to maintain forests and water tables near mining locations. The costly nature of environmental regulation reduces mining profit margins, forcing mining sites that operate at a low profit margin to close down. On the other hand, public health and water cleanliness are at stake.
Obama’s administration spent a great deal of time putting the law together and barely pushed it through in December before Trump took over. Highly controversial, the Stream Protection Rule prioritized climate change concerns and public health over the economic viability of mining operations. While climate change opponents and advocates of fossil fuels lobbied against the rule, citing the potential loss of up to 70,000 jobs, other sources dismiss those numbers and estimate only a loss of 124 full-time jobs in the coal sector. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis goes as far as predicting job growth through an estimated annual increase in 280 full-time jobs related to regulating and enforcing the Stream Protection Rule. Some critics of Trump’s move to eliminate the rule suggest addressing coal miners’ health, safety, and benefits on the job as well as taking fishermen and the outdoor industry into consideration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warns of community damage especially in Appalachian regions that could result from overregulation while Senator Maria Cantwell believes, “You can protect the coal industry here with special interests and the amount of lobbying they do, or you can step up in a process and have regulation that works for the United States of America”.
My previous discussion on the Trump administration’s efforts to end the EPA still applies to this discussion on removing the Stream Protection Rule in that “the problem with this move, along with most of Trump’s policy moves, is that they are removing safeguards that have been put in place to afford average citizens environmental, financial, social, and health equality (among many others)”. Any move that insists on holding tightly onto fossil fuel jobs regardless of environmental impact surveys and statistics is a hindrance to American economic and social progress. One can not tout the salvage of a couple hundred jobs at the long-term expense of water quality that every citizen is entitled to. At any rate, research has consistently proven the job-creating prowess of the sustainability sector but these findings don’t seem to have a place in the job count conversation. Is this testament to a trillion-dollar industry’s concern for their pensionless, health problem-ridden miners, or to an agenda for widened profit margins via stagnation of American industries?
The game Trump plays with environmental deregulation benefits from the indirect and future harm that draws fewer passionate protestors than policy moves do on issues like abortion, health care, and minimum wage. The art of creating an indifferent public is making a new policy seem as though it affects “someone else, but not me”. Historically, the conversation on climate change has suffered from a result of the intangibility of losing clean air and water twenty years from now. Regardless, this decision to remove the Stream Protection Act, along with other safeguards put in place by climate change seers and believers, impacts every individual from the family living downstream of American Appalachian coal mines to Thai paddy farmers whose rice crops didn’t survive this year’s flooding (compliments of, you guessed it, climate change).
The larger social justice theme underlying Trump’s ability to slash environmental regulation left and right is that the public often focuses on battling personal financial and social struggles built into society’s institutions while those at the top with status and power have all the time and money in the world to build and shape institutions as they see fit. It does not take much work from the dominant culture to maintain a marginalized community with little solidarity. We could point fingers at media literacy, our education system, or our lobbying structure for feeding the loop of unbalanced voices but I’ll stop here with a request that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike reexamine what actually comes inside the packages they fight for named Job Creation, Job Security, and Economic Growth.
Henry, D. (2017, February 16). Trump signs bill undoing Obama coal mining rule. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/319938-trump-signs-bill-undoing-obama-coal-mining-rule
Kuykendall, T. (2017, February 13). Little coal industry relief seen in reversal of Stream Protection Rule. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from http://ieefa.org/little-coal-industry-relief-seen-reversal-stream-protection-rule/