Editorial: Speaking truth about the coal industry

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Hillary Clinton took a beating in West Virginia, losing the state to Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary held there May 10.

Her chances to win that coal-producing and economically depressed state were compromised after a parsed quote about coal's future in the United States was circulated by the media. At an Ohio town hall in March, Clinton said the country would "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business ..."

That quote created quite a stir in the coal-producing regions of the country, but, as is common these days, Clinton's statement was taken out of context. The complete statement: "I'm the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right? And we're going to make it clear that we don't want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we've got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don't want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on."

If elected, Clinton has promised $30 billion to help workers and companies transition away from earning a living by mining coal.

Republicans jumped all over Clinton and her parsed quote. America Rising, a super-PAC that produces opposition research on Democratic Party members, said her comments exhibited her "brazen disregard for the men and women who help power America."

Despite how you might feel about Hillary Clinton, this manufactured outrage is only meant to obfuscate the real threat global climate change presents to the habitat that supports human live. For too long, the fear of job losses and the economic impacts of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels has kept the carbon-producing electric turbines spinning. Meanwhile, megatons of pollutants have been accumulating in the atmosphere and in our oceans and most rational human beings with a conscience and without an agenda are beginning to acknowledge cheap electricity from fossil fuels was no bargain at all. We and many generations following have a mess on our hands and it will require a "moon shot" initiative to solve.

Mounting hyperbolic attacks against candidates is a time-proven tactic; its efficacy evidenced by the repetition of smear tactics that have been utilized in campaigns immemorial. Those tactics are meant to rile up emotions, bypassing logic and reasoned debate. In this case, those opposed to Clinton's nomination are using the very real anxieties and despair of the laborers in a dying industry to their own advantage. Rather than proposing solutions to their plight — as Clinton has done — they see misery as something to exploit to further their agenda.

All of the sound and fury leveled at Clinton over her remarks obscures one true fact: The coal industry is already gutted.

The fact is, as CNNMoney's Patrick Gillespie notes, "The number of coal workers in the United States — 57,700 — is at a record low since data was tracked. Coal employment declined in every single month last year and it's down dramatically from the mid-1980s when there were over 175,000 coal jobs."

But while the number of solar jobs nationwide has doubled in five years to around 209,000, most of those jobs haven't been in coal-producing regions. This is not an unusual trend in any modern nation. Industries and careers in those industries are subject to forces outside of their control, whether they be market demands, global competition, outsourcing, innovation or regulations designed to limit their affect on the environment.

Over the past 200 years, jobs have come and gone, and they include steel workers, lamplighters, lectors, switchboard operators, reporters, ice cutters, street sweepers (before automobiles, someone had to clean up all that horse manure), bucket makers, loom operators, etc., ad nauseum.

It is sad, we do not deny it, and the financial burdens of losing a job have crushed many families, but well-paying jobs have come and gone. Eventually the devastation to the environment wreaked by fossil fuels and their extraction will be more of a concern than the jobs that were lost. That's just a cold, hard fact. It's about time we faced up to it and admitted these communities, and the world, have more to fear from global climate change than from lost jobs.


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