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: 348496

Reported Deaths: 7556
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds24427446
DeSoto23439283
Harrison21066330
Rankin15704292
Jackson15597252
Madison11114227
Lee10855179
Jones9181169
Forrest8960160
Lauderdale8008244
Lamar719489
Lowndes7167151
Lafayette6604125
Washington5629140
Pearl River5336153
Oktibbeha500998
Bolivar4989134
Warren4803128
Panola4801112
Marshall4725106
Pontotoc451473
Hancock438088
Union437179
Monroe4361137
Neshoba4351181
Lincoln4212116
Pike3711113
Leflore3668125
Tate354688
Alcorn353974
Sunflower350794
Adams345388
Scott344676
Yazoo342476
Copiah329868
Simpson325191
Itawamba316780
Coahoma314985
Tippah312568
Prentiss301863
Covington300184
Marion288681
Leake287875
Wayne280043
George276751
Grenada271388
Newton265964
Tishomingo240370
Winston237884
Stone234138
Jasper233148
Attala228173
Chickasaw220860
Holmes202274
Clay201154
Clarke188180
Tallahatchie185442
Calhoun183032
Smith182635
Yalobusha173141
Walthall149049
Lawrence145226
Greene141835
Amite138643
Noxubee136735
Perry135638
Montgomery133744
Carroll126831
Webster122632
Jefferson Davis118734
Tunica115827
Benton107225
Claiborne105731
Kemper103529
Humphreys101733
Franklin88324
Quitman85619
Choctaw82819
Wilkinson79332
Jefferson71928
Sharkey51818
Issaquena1736
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 589110

Reported Deaths: 11536
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson856031591
Mobile49268864
Madison37603533
Shelby27362257
Tuscaloosa27208465
Montgomery26252627
Baldwin25567329
Lee17260181
Calhoun15429334
Morgan15199291
Etowah14981370
Marshall13136235
Houston12112293
Elmore10946219
St. Clair10793252
Limestone10750158
Cullman10566205
Lauderdale10266254
DeKalb9517192
Talladega8972188
Walker7817288
Autauga7585114
Jackson7406117
Blount7382139
Colbert6721142
Coffee6382132
Dale5673117
Russell481343
Chilton4785117
Covington4763125
Franklin459081
Tallapoosa4525156
Escambia443883
Chambers3968125
Dallas3749163
Clarke371663
Marion3465107
Pike333079
Lawrence3267100
Winston299373
Bibb290965
Geneva285983
Marengo262767
Barbour252061
Pickens245762
Butler241472
Hale235978
Fayette227265
Henry214845
Monroe203041
Randolph201944
Cherokee199548
Washington185239
Macon170752
Crenshaw169458
Clay166559
Cleburne161545
Lamar151238
Lowndes145855
Wilcox132331
Bullock126542
Conecuh122132
Coosa118429
Perry110828
Sumter110433
Greene99137
Choctaw64425
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Tuesday will be filled with plenty of sunshine and temperatures will still remain below the normal high temperature for this time of year. Most of the high temperatures on Tuesday will range anywhere from the middle 80s to lower 90s across our area.
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