How Coal Miners Can Help Progressives Win in 2018 and Beyond
How Coal Miners Can Help Progressives Win in 2018 and Beyond
Coal miners in counties across the country overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. And though Trump promised to bring back coal jobs, experts say the promise, “will not be kept”. Keeping in mind that he’s a serial liar, it’s safe to say it is only a matter of time before coal county voters turn their backs on President Trump. It may have already begun too, starting with this town hall featuring Bernie Sanders. More recently, after Trump used coal miners as props during his campaign, news broke that 23,00 of them will lose health benefits under the Republican healthcare plan.
Coal Miners and Their Local Economies
Coal miners don’t live in New York City. Actually, they don’t live in any large metropolitan areas. Average coal towns have populations in the low thousands or hundreds. Most are unincorporated. Some have post offices that are closed. Many have poverty worse than anything you’ve ever seen in a city. Gillette, Wyoming has a population of just under 50,000. One out of every ten residents there are employed by the coal industry.
But most coal towns aren’t that big. I’ve been to coal county hollers with no internet, no running water and no cell phone signal. An especially sad sight was seeing plywood boards covering fire damaged holes in the roofs and sides of homes that would otherwise be condemned if not for their extreme rural geography. There, they are being lived in. Children included.
Miners and Money
But miners can make good money. An average coal mine salary is listed at just over $50,000. That’s good money for a job that doesn’t require a college degree. ABC listed the salary at $60,000 in 2010. Though when I worked in Kentucky I heard of coal miners making upwards of $90,000 and $100,000.
In the coal towns of Appalachia, only 1 in 10 men will receive a college degree and 1 in 4 people live in poverty. Beyond coal, there are few options. A coal mine shutting down can permanently ruin a small town’s economy. Not to mention the heroine and opioid epidemics sweeping middle America.
Consider this: Imagine 20 coal miners making $60,000 each. Imagine all of them lose their jobs in a coal mining town with a population of 500. That scenario is equivalent to a $1.2 million dollar hit to the local economy every year.
The Energy Sector is Changing – so too must Mining Towns
One thing must be clear. No matter what Trump promises, coal mining jobs are not coming back.
Peter Hille, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), a Kentucky organization working to foster economic development in the state lays it out.
“This is a region of deep economic distress, and has been for more than 50 years. We started losing jobs when mechanization entered the mines, and what has been happening in recent years sits on top of decades of economic decline and distress,”
Even if the industry regained all the jobs lost in recent years, Hille explained, “the whole region still would be economically distressed. The real work is about building a new economy.”
As progressives, we can’t talk about transitioning our energy sector without talking about transitioning the economic infrastructures of mining towns.
If the country is to shun coal for the sake of the environment, coal counties will and should demand that the country help them transition away from coal based economies. They should demand education funding, economic development, and unique opportunities to transition their mountainsides away from coal mining.
Coal Miners Need Progressive Economic Policies
The depressing and ongoing state of coal communities provides a perfect scenario for progressives to prove their policies work. But what policies can Progressives present that coal miners would embrace?
Coal communities need a drastically different approach to battling drug addiction. With epidemic levels of opioid abuse in coal states, progressive policies ending the war on drugs are exactly what is needed. Because Progressive candidates believe in treating addiction as a medical issue, they should earn significant favor in the communities most affected by drugs. Up to this point, the Democratic establishment has ensured the drug war remains in place. Progressives bring something new to the table – much like Trump did.
Additionally, there are several progressive, long-term economic investments cities, states and the Federal Government can make to replace mining jobs. On mountain tops that have already been mined and deforested, solar farms can be built to provide power and bring in jobs for the future. Alternatively, mountainous areas can be converted to tourist destinations, much like Black Mountain Thunder Zipline. Personally, I’ve seen coal mines converted for camping, horseback riding, ATV riding, music festivals, and just about anything else you can imagine doing outdoors.
Mine Conversion Happening Now
Right now, Virginia is planning to turn an abandoned coal mine into a hydropower storage facility and the benefits are huge. Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com reports:
Hundreds of jobs would be created at the construction site of each new facility, new sources of tax revenue would be found for local economies, and the transition to renewable energy becomes much easier for the state legislative body.
Beyond converting the coal mines, coal communities need progressive agendas that are more inviting to outsiders. With dwindling populations caused by a lack of opportunities, coal communities need to open their doors to outsiders. Beyond American migrants from out-of-state, immigrants are twice as likely as native born Americans to start a business. Opening their doors to these people could bring huge economic incentives to communities that desperately need them.
Can Progressives Win Coal Country in 2020?
We may have the opportunity to see a progressive represent a coal state at the federal level soon. Justice Democrat candidate Paula Swearengin, a coal miner’s daughter and environmental activist is running against pseudo-Democrat Joe Manchin in West Virginia’s 2018 Democratic primary. As expected, Democratic establishment types are already attacking her. Check out a Q&A with Swearengin here where she supports a $15 an hour minimum wage, medicare for all, LGBT rights and more.
But the real change happens at the local and state level.
I do not live in a coal state presently. However, I do hope progressives take the opportunity provided by Trump to win elections in 2020. Coal counties are ripe for hope after suffering Trump’s lies. Progressives have the answers. I just hope they can communicate it effectively without being undermined by the establishment.
Donald Trump is president. We need more than hope. We need wins. I’ll hope like hell that Progressives win seats in 2020, but there’s little evidence to support that idea so far. However, I desperately hope Paula Swearengin shocks the world in 2018. If that happens, everything changes.