Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunbury Op-Ed: We Should Rebuild Our Coal Communities, Restore Our Natural Resources

This Op-Ed entitled, Powering A 21st Century Industrial Revolution, by Nicole Faraguna, founding member of the Susquehanna Valley Progressives, appeared Sunday in the Sunbury Daily Item newspaper in Northumberland County.  
It comments on the Trump Administration obsession with reviving coal, when it should focus on rebuilding coal communities and restoring our natural resources.  The text of the Op-Ed follows—
President Trump insists he can reinvigorate coal, an 18th century technology, in a 21st century economy. As someone who grew up in Appalachia, I feel he should focus instead on rebuilding our coal communities and restoring the natural resources that have been devastated in the industry’s wake.
I was born and raised in Northumberland County, a place where coal has left its indelible mark in the form of orange, lifeless creeks; mine-stripped lands; and massive banks of culm. The industry mined our town’s resources until nothing was left; people, land, water all were expendable in the pursuit of the mighty dollar.
Anthracite coal extraction peaked in the early 1900s and its residual benefits have long disappeared. I have watched my hometown further deteriorate in the past decades.
Trump is now vowing to refuel the coal industry by gutting environmental and labor protections that were eventually put in place (though not in time to shield many of the coal communities in Pennsylvania).
He wants to make it easier for corporations to contaminate our air and water. In fact, he has already reversed an order put in place by President Obama that had prohibited dumping coal waste into our streams.
Trump blames overburdening regulations for coal’s downfall; in reality, he should be faulting a booming natural gas industry. The availability of cheap natural gas and oil has made it very difficult for coal to compete.
Surely a successful businessman like Trump must understand how competition (from cheaper energy sources) and technology and automation have significantly and respectively decreased the value of coal and reduced its workforce.
Even if there was a way to make coal more plentiful by deregulation — in other words, by sacrificing our air and water — his actions would only result in further devaluation.
The Pennsylvania Legislature hasn’t helped coal by doling out billions in subsidies and tax breaks to natural gas corporations. On the other hand, the state has enabled the coal industry to exploit and extract with little consequence for much of its existence.
In fact, in many cases, taxpayers have footed the bill for the remediation of mined lands and the demolition of mining structures.
Workers too have been sacrificed along the way. Miners were overworked and underpaid. Many perished in the mines or, like my grandfather who died of black lung, suffered through long illnesses.
The labor movement had to fight long and hard for decent pay, benefits and improved work conditions.
As the industry declined in recent decades, companies declared bankruptcy and defaulted on employee benefit packages, leaving many workers with no pension or healthcare.
Trump too defaulted on promises. He campaigned in coal-laden communities across Appalachia eager to win over the vote of rural residents, declaring “Trump Digs Coal.”
Yet, this past month when tens of thousands of miners needed his support for continued healthcare coverage and pension plans…he offered them nothing but silence.
There’s an even bigger problem.
Coal is the greatest threat to our world’s climate. Carbon dioxide and methane are both emitted into the atmosphere when coal is burned. These gases remain in our atmosphere for a long period of time and cause heat to be trapped. As a result, atmospheric and oceanic temperatures rise.
These changes result in rising ocean waters, severe weather patterns and acute droughts. Climate change is real, is happening and cannot be ignored.
For so many reasons, it is time to move beyond coal. President Trump has an opportunity to make a real investment in coal communities.
Not by subsidizing a failing industry but by rebuilding failing infrastructure; concentrating on bringing 21st century businesses to empty factories that are plentiful in these areas; restoring the natural resources compromised by decades of mining; and permanently protecting those precious lands that have been miraculously spared.
Northumberland County should have an opportunity to contribute to making America even greater by helping to transition from dirty, polluting fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives.
The U.S. solar industry employs more workers than coal, natural gas and oil combined. Why can’t these jobs come here?
President Trump, invest in this region and it will power the next industrial revolution
[Note: President Trump won Northumberland County by 69.8 percent of the vote in November 2016.]
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