As part of his campaign strategy, President Donald Trump assured laid-off workers from some of the most environmentally destructive industrial jobs that he was committed to rolling back the EPA regulations that limited their work. Of course, reinvigorating the coal industry instead of investing in renewable energy sources could have devastating effects on the environment, so John Oliver addressed Trump's interest in coal jobs on Last Week Tonight. Namely, he tackled some of the real reasons behind the coal industry's decline, which, spoiler alert: don't have all that much to do with former President Barack Obama.
Conventional conservative wisdom dictates that regulations put in place under Obama have become job killers. But the truth is that coal industry jobs have been in decline for decades — and not significantly moreso under Obama. In fact, his regulations had very little impact on the decline in coal mining jobs by comparison to other factors.
For example, studies showed demand for coal dropped in large part due to a drop in natural gas prices and a growth in renewable energy sources. But even so, the rapid automation of coal mining means that jobs for actual humans would be in decline anyway. According to an All in With Chris Hayes segment Oliver clipped, the practice of underground coal-mining is quickly going extinct in favor of automated mountainside and surface removals.
Unfortunately, progressive rhetoric about "replacing" coal jobs with renewable energy jobs doesn't really seem to hold water, either, because renewable energy jobs aren't coming to the places where coal mines have shuttered. Thus, poverty and joblessness persists in those areas, even as we pursue renewable energy sources and jobs. And, like most industries, coal companies are not always working in the best interests of coal miners.
One possible solution Oliver highlighted was investing in retraining programs for miners that can actually help them find jobs without relocating, like a software company called Bitsource in Kentucky, which is teaching miners how to code.
"If Trump really cares about miners, he would be putting a plan in place for their futures as mining continues its long-term decline," Oliver said. "But he isn't doing that." In fact, Trump has proposed a cut in funding to the Appalachian Regional Commission, which helps revitalize mining communities with skills training in other fields. Oliver concluded:
The point here is, Trump needs to stop lying to coal miners. We all do. Stop telling them that their jobs are all coming back when they're not. Stop telling them that coal is clean when it isn't. And stop pretending that this isn't an industry in the middle of a difficult and painful, albeit necessary, transition. An honest conversation about coal and its miners needs to be had. And we should neither cease nor desist from having it.
Like so many decisions coming out of the Trump administration, continuing to sweep this problem under the rug affects his base most devastatingly.