Coal mines closing despite Trump's promises

Coal mines are closing across America despite promises made by President Trump. CNN's Bill Weir reports.

Posted: Jan 9, 2019 5:34 AM
Updated: Jan 9, 2019 5:55 AM

It sits on the banks of the Monongahela River like a monstrous monument to extinction.

With no fire in its belly and no smoke in its stacks, the rusting power plant provides only one sign of its former inhabitants, scribbled on a white board in a padlocked guard booth.

"RIP Mitchell," the handwriting reads. "You gave us a good few years."

The Mitchell Power Station, just south of Pittsburgh, actually turned Pennsylvania coal into power for a good 65 years before the discovery of cheaper, cleaner forms of energy.

As fracked natural gas and renewables like wind and solar undercut the price of coal, both Mitchell and the nearby Hatfield's Ferry power plants were deactivated on the same day in 2013.

Many in this corner of coal country blamed Obama-era regulations on their demise, so when a candidate named Donald Trump promised to end a so-called "war on coal," they were ready to believe.

"We are putting our great coal miners back to work," he repeated to rally crowds waving "Trump Digs Coal" signs. "I'm coal's last shot."

But thanks largely to free-market forces, more coal-fired power plants have been deactivated in Trump's first two years in office then in Obama's entire first term. When asked about the President's claim to be the savior of coal, veteran miner and industry consultant Art Sullivan bristles.

"He's trying to get their votes," he says, standing by the fenced-off entrance to a mine not far from Mitchell where he once served as Face Boss, a coal industry term for managers. "He's lying to them."

For 52 years, Sullivan worked in mines around the world and, like many in western Pennsylvania, he remembers Hillary Clinton's 2016 Ohio town hall where she said, "We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."

In her book "What Happened," Clinton devoted an entire chapter to the gaffe, which eclipsed her early campaign promise to provide a $30 billion aid package to struggling coal communities.

Sullivan had his own thoughts. "What you need to say to coal miners is 'We're going to figure out a way to give you better, safer, healthier jobs.' These guys and the few gals are simply too good. They are too capable to simply say that we don't need you," he said.

Looking for a cure

"They wanted hope," Blair Zimmerman says of his fellow miners in Greene County, Pennsylvania, who put their faith in Trump. "If someone that has a sickness or a cancer and the doctor says 'I can cure that,' they believe ... I can't blame them or question them for trusting (Trump)."

Now a county commissioner, Zimmerman is part of a local group hoping to lure natural gas investors from Texas to drill in Pennsylvania and he scoffs at the Trump administration's efforts to deregulate coal-fired power plants. "It will help this much," he says, holding his fingers an inch apart. "But it won't bring back coal as king."

Trump's EPA -- now led by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler -- recently moved to lift Obama-era caps on how much poisonous mercury and heat-trapping carbon power plants would be allowed to pump into the sky. The argument was that less regulation could boost the coal industry and perhaps lead to cheaper electricity.

The 2012 regulations should not be considered "appropriate and necessary," the EPA said, even though utility companies already spent billions installing pollution control technology and the agency's own reports say that the rule changes could lead to as many as 1,400 more premature deaths a year by 2030.

'Nothing can stop' transition to renewables

The EPA also joined 11 other national agencies -- from the Pentagon to the Smithsonian -- in the alarming Black Friday report that warns of a catastrophic future unless drastic steps are taken to slow down man-made climate change.

"I think there's enough resilience in the (Earth's) system that we can withstand one four-year term of Donald Trump," says Penn State climatologist Michael Mann. "I'm not sure we can withstand two."

Mann is among the chorus of international climate scientists who argue that to save life on Earth as we know it, wealthy nations like the US need to switch to carbon-free electricity by 2030. This would mean 80% of current coal reserves would need to stay in the ground, he wrote.

"We've undergone transitions like this before," Mann says on another unseasonably warm winter's day in State College, across Pennsylvania from the Mitchell Power Station.

"We got off whale oil because something better came along. That was fossil fuels," he says. "Now something better has come along and that's renewable energy and there's nothing that can stop that transition."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314509

Reported Deaths: 7247
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21626259
Hinds20359415
Harrison17934309
Rankin13634278
Jackson13447246
Madison10099217
Lee9980174
Jones8381163
Forrest7683152
Lauderdale7191241
Lowndes6401147
Lamar623086
Lafayette6200118
Washington5339134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462798
Panola4588107
Pearl River4512146
Marshall4443103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420772
Monroe4113133
Union411076
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3968110
Hancock379386
Leflore3497125
Sunflower336090
Tate334084
Pike3325105
Scott315973
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311669
Itawamba300477
Copiah297065
Coahoma295479
Simpson295288
Tippah288768
Adams286882
Prentiss279760
Marion269280
Leake268373
Wayne262641
Grenada261487
Covington259681
George248048
Newton246861
Winston227281
Tishomingo226967
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw207857
Holmes189173
Clay185454
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178841
Clarke178080
Calhoun170832
Yalobusha164338
Smith162434
Walthall133945
Greene130633
Lawrence128624
Montgomery126942
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83823
Quitman80916
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67331
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 532895

Reported Deaths: 11001
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson771431528
Mobile41089808
Madison34837505
Tuscaloosa25810454
Montgomery24355588
Shelby23730249
Baldwin21191309
Lee15892171
Calhoun14522316
Morgan14324279
Etowah13861353
Marshall12250223
Houston10581281
Elmore10060205
Limestone9986151
Cullman9705194
St. Clair9702243
Lauderdale9441242
DeKalb8846187
Talladega8255176
Walker7246277
Autauga6938108
Jackson6815112
Blount6694137
Colbert6310134
Coffee5524119
Dale4850111
Russell443238
Chilton4308112
Franklin426282
Covington4136118
Tallapoosa4039152
Escambia393977
Chambers3578123
Dallas3557152
Clarke351161
Marion3130101
Pike311377
Lawrence300798
Winston275673
Bibb261564
Geneva251477
Marengo249664
Pickens234761
Barbour231756
Hale223277
Butler216469
Fayette212562
Henry189044
Cherokee184745
Randolph181742
Monroe178040
Washington167639
Macon159950
Clay156857
Crenshaw152757
Cleburne149141
Lamar142935
Lowndes139053
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110629
Coosa107928
Perry107826
Sumter104832
Greene92534
Choctaw61124
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