Repealing the Clean Power Plan will not rescue coal. Released in 2015, the Clean Power Plan was intended to reduce the effects of climate change in part by cutting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Now, despite the urging of nearly 240 mayors from 47 states, the current administration in Washington is seeking to repeal this plan under the pretext that it will fulfill a campaign promise to bring back coal jobs.
Actually, the promise is delusional. Despite a blip last year, the market for coal is declining. For example, Xcel Energy in Colorado recently discovered the energy from solar and wind is not only clean but also more affordable than coal. Repealing the Clean Power Plan will not bring back coal jobs. Instead, it will allow coal power plants to continue polluting the air.
Fortunately, a reality-based alternative exists for out-of-work coal workers: reclamation of existing coal mines.
The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act requires coal companies to restore land after production has ceased. All too often companies are able to skirt their reclamation obligation through self-bonding, a scheme which absolves mining companies from initially putting up actual bonded funds designated for reclamation. As a result, these companies leave behind closed mines, damaged landscapes, out-of-work populations, financially stressed communities and taxpayers holding the bill. By requiring coal companies to provide the funds up front for clean-up, regulatory agencies can insure funds are available for reclamation.
And these funds provide jobs. Much of the work required for reclamation includes tasks in which miners are skilled: running heavy equipment, driving trucks, moving earth, etc. Approximately 180,000 acres or around 300 square miles are currently ready to be reclaimed in Wyoming alone. This translates into about $1 billion of economic activity which can provide years of work for workers and give our coal communities time to find a new path to economic stability.
With an eye on the big picture, we have an opportunity to weather the social, environmental, and economic storms that accompany coal’s decline. But to do this successfully, we must embrace reality rather than grasp at delusional promises.