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Trump making good on promises to coal miners

February.24 Coal

Reducing harmful regulations and bringing back blue-collar jobs were major themes of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Now he is following through on those pledges.

President Trump signed legislation repealing an Interior Department rule finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration that restricted the amount of coal mining debris that may be dumped into nearby streams, and required greater remediation of such areas. The regulation was only finalized in December, though it had been in development for seven years.

The coal industry claimed that the rule was superfluous and would cost thousands of jobs in an industry already decimated by both government regulation and market forces, including the rise of cheap natural gas and declining demand from China. And Trump had previously argued that the stream rule “duplicates existing protections in the Clean Water Act and is unnecessary given the other federal and state regulations already in place.”

“In eliminating this rule, I am continuing to keep my promise to the American people to get rid of wasteful regulations that do nothing — absolutely nothing — but slow down the economy, hamstring companies [and] push jobs to other countries,” Trump said during last Thursday’s White House signing ceremony. Compliance with the rule would have cost the coal industry more than $50 million a year, he added.

Trump’s actions mark a significant departure from the administration of Barack Obama, which seemed to make good on a very different kind of promise regarding the coal industry. “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted,” Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008. An estimated 83,000 coal jobs were lost and hundreds of coal mines were shuttered during his administration, which often imposed costly regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency and others that hurt the industry.

Such issues have now put many red-state Democrats in awkward positions. “Ten Democratic senators will face re-election fights next year in states where Trump won; of those, five hail from states where he won by double digits,” a recent RealClearPolitics article noted. “But with their party base screaming for blood, those incumbents could find themselves swimming against the partisan tide in both directions, torn between working with Trump or denouncing him.”

Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator, and former governor, from coal-rich West Virginia, was at the signing ceremony for the annulling of the so-called “Stream Protection Rule.” Manchin has chosen to eschew the uncompromising resistance strategy favored by many on the progressive wing of his party in favor of seeking areas of agreement and working with the Trump administration. “I’ve got more agreement from [Trump] than I got from any other administration in a month,” he told RCP.

As the Republican Party continues to make good on promises to roll back Obama-era regulations, especially those concerning core Democratic issues like the environment and Obamacare, it will be interesting to see if the progressive resistance movement will strengthen or wither away like the Occupy movement.