Conservative media figures are cherry-picking a comment made by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during CNN's March 13 Democratic town hall in Columbus, Ohio to deceptively claim that she wants to “destroy” coal miners' livelihoods. Clinton was actually discussing her plan to help the predominantly low-income communities that have been hardest hit by the generation-long decline of the coal industry, which has been primarily driven by market forces beyond the control of any politician.
Clinton References Plan to Revitalize Coal Communities During CNN Town Hall
Hillary Clinton Refers To Clean Energy Plan During CNN/TV One's Democratic Town Hall in Ohio. During the March 13 Democratic town hall jointly-hosted by CNN and TV One, TV One managing editor Roland Martin asked Clinton why “poor whites ... who vote Republican” should vote for her. She responded, in part, by outlining her plan to expand “economic opportunity using clean renewable energy” in communities dependent on the declining coal industry:
CLINTON: 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, Tim?
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. [CNN, Democratic Town Hall, 3/13/16]
Clinton's $30 Billion Plan For Coal Communities Provides Support During Transition To Clean Energy. In November, Clinton released a plan to create federal programs designed to assist coal-dependent communities while transitioning toward more environmentally-friendly energy sources. The $30 billion proposal includes measures that:
- Protect health and retirement benefits for retired coal miners.
- Ensure public schools in coal communities remain funded even as the coal-related revenues that currently support them decline.
- Make major infrastructure investments in coal communities in order to grow local economies and increase employment.
- Increase public investment in research and development in coal-producing regions.
- Expand tax credits in communities that are suffering from the coal industry's decline in order to attract new private investment.
- Provide job training for workers and technical assistance for small businesses in coal communities.
- Fund programs that make homes in coal communities more energy efficient, saving families money on their electric bills. [HillaryClinton.com, The Briefing, 11/12/15]
Conservative Media Distort Statement To Claim Clinton Wants To Harm Coal Miners
Laura Ingraham Suggested Clinton Wants To “Destroy” Coal Miners' “Way Of Life” Because She Finds Them “Repugnant.” On the March 14 edition of her radio show, Laura Ingraham asserted that Clinton said she would “take out a lot of these coal miners,” and that Clinton's comments were proof that Democrats “don't care about actual people.” Ingraham also suggested that Clinton wants to “destroy” coal miners' “way of life” because she finds them “repugnant”:
INGRAHAM: Hillary's going to take more jobs away from the coal industry, this is what she said last night. We're going to take out a lot of these coal miners. We're going to take these coal miners' jobs, we're going to shut these jobs down. We're going to take these jobs out, we're going to shut these jobs down. Think about these people what they -- what people have suffered. The Democrats don't care about actual people. They care about people in the abstract but they actually, when you dig down into these issues, the actual people who are suffering, they don't care about at all.
Again these are people who have worked so hard their entire lives and the government comes along -- and I'll give you the raw facts on this in just a moment -- but the government comes along and says “No, actually we find you repugnant, and what you do is repugnant, so we're going to destroy your way of life, we're going to destroy the only way you've ever known how to make a living, we're going to take it all away from you.” That's what the government did to the coal industry.
Hillary says you don't make America great again by tearing us down, but except, she wants to eviscerate the entire coal industry. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 3/14/16, 3/14/16]
Fox Business' Bartiromo Claimed Clinton's Comments Show That “The War On Coal Is Escalating,” Let Coal Industry Exec. Claim Clinton Said She'd “Destroy” Coal Miners' “Livelihoods.” On the March 14 edition of Fox Business' Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, Bartiromo introduced Clinton's comments by asserting that “the war on coal is escalating.” Bartiromo then interviewed coal industry CEO Robert Murray, and failed to challenge Murray's claim that Clinton was telling “folks and citizens” in coal communities that she is “going to destroy their jobs and family livelihoods.” At no point in the segment did Bartiromo explain that Clinton was discussing her plan to revitalize coal communities. Bartiromo also attributed coal industry job losses and bankruptcies to a “campaign” against coal by the Obama administration, completely ignoring the larger market forces responsible for the coal industry's long decline.
[Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 3/14/16]
Some Outlets Put Clinton's Comments In Proper Context
CNN.com: “Broader Context” Of Clinton's Remarks Is That She “Has A Plan To Help Those Who Stand To Lose Jobs.” A March 13 summary of the Democratic town hall by CNN.com noted that Clinton's comment about coal miners and companies will be run “again and again” in Republican attack ads, but added that “the broader context” of the remark demonstrated that Clinton “has a plan to help” workers who are displaced by the move away from coal-fired power plants:
In the middle of her comments about creating jobs in rural, predominantly white portions of the United States, Clinton uttered a line that Republicans will be more than happy to run again and again.
The clip that will make it into attack ads: “We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
The broader context is that Clinton introduced that comment by saying she is “the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean, renewable energy as the key into coal country,” and that she has a plan to help those who stand to lose jobs. [CNN.com, 3/13/16]
The Courier-Journal Explained Clinton's Plan To Help Coal Communities And Noted Other Factors Responsible For Coal Industry Decline. On March 14, Kentucky's largest newspaper, The Courier-Journal, published an article that predicted a “truncated version” of Clinton's words could find its way into attacks against her. But the Courier-Journal explained that Clinton was discussing how “she did not want to leave miners and others in coal country behind,” and that she is “committed to boosting devastated coal-community economies.” The article also noted that “coal jobs in Kentucky have been on the decline for years, and for a variety of reasons, including a dramatic decrease in the cost of natural gas”:
On CNN, she said: “We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
That was Sunday night, and it was just a part of her expansive comments about how she did not want to leave miners and others in coal country behind during a power generation shift to cleaner sources of energy, and that she was committed to boosting devastated coal-community economies.
Still, the words that might end up in campaign ads will be the truncated version that appears to attack people's livelihoods. Even if she would not be able to win in Kentucky, those words could cause collateral damage for a party already accused of carrying out a “war on coal.”
The fact is, coal jobs in Kentucky have been on the decline for years, and for a variety of reasons, including a dramatic decrease in the cost of natural gas, which is also cleaner burning. Sec. Clinton and her competition in the Democratic primaries have said they plan to continue a clean energy shift, declaring climate change a top priority. Meanwhile, Republican candidates for president have denied or mocked mainstream climate change science, or they have said there is little the United States can do to make a difference. [The Courier-Journal, 3/14/16]
Coal Industry's Decline Dates Back Decades, Caused Mainly By Market Forces And Technological Advances
Coal Employment Has Been In Decline Since The 1980s. According to a June 2012 report by the National Mining Association (NMA), a coal industry trade group, coal mining employment steadily declined from 1984 through 2011. According to NMA statistics, the total number of individuals employed in coal mining had declined by 87.5 percent from 1923 through 2011, even though total coal production over the same time period nearly doubled. Updated data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, similarly shows that coal mining employment has been declining since the mid-1980s:
Advances In Productivity Lessened The Need For Coal Workers. The National Journal explained that technological advances have “made miners more efficient” and is likely a more prominent driver of the decline in coal jobs than regulations:
So what's driving the decline? First and foremost: changes in the industry.
Advances in mining technology have made miners more efficient.
Indeed, the traditional images of coal mines--dark holes filled with men swinging pickaxes and pushing carts--are no more. Today, it is machines that are ripping coal from the mines' walls, and then automatic conveyor belts whipping the fuel back to the surface.
And much of the production has moved above ground entirely, thanks to a practice known as mountaintop-removal mining, in which miners use controlled explosions to open mountains and mine the newly exposed coal seams.
For the miners and other industry employees who still hold jobs, the increased productivity has paid off. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nominal average annual coal industry employee wages in West Virginia sat at $54,000. By 2012, the average employee was taking home nearly $85,000. [National Journal, 10/31/13]
CAP: Market Forces, Competition, And Changing Methods Responsible For Declining Coal Industry Employment In Appalachia. According to an October 2014 report by the Center for American Progress (CAP), opponents of environmental regulations have blamed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the decline of the Appalachian coal industry. But in reality, according to the report, “Appalachia's coal communities are confronting a confluence of market factors that are years in the making,” including competition from cheap and abundant natural gas, a shift to less labor intensive forms of surface mining, and downward price pressures from the global coal market:
All of these market forces have put pressure on Appalachian coal companies, resulting in the recent layoffs. When a coal company decides to close a mine or lay off workers, the effects on local communities are significant. However, it is both disingenuous and counterproductive to blame the Environmental Protection Agency for these layoffs. Ignoring the complex market forces and structural barriers only delays meaningful discussion about ways to reinvigorate coal communities across Appalachia. [Center for American Progress, 10/6/14]
Experts: Market Forces, Coal Depletion Are “More Important Factors” Than EPA Regulations In Appalachian Coal Industry's Decline. On July 31, 2014, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that energy industry experts consider competition from natural gas and renewables, and “a long-predicted depletion of the best and easiest-to-reach coal reserves,” to be “more important factors” than “tougher air-pollution rules” in the Appalachian coal industry's decline. From the Gazette-Mail:
“It just doesn't look like coal there is going to boom in the future,” said Robert Milici, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey. “The best coal has been mined out. It's pretty well gone.”
Production in the Central Appalachian basin, which consists mostly of Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, peaked at about 290 million tons in 1990 and again in 1997, according to federal government data. But even as national production continued to grow over the following decade, Central Appalachian output fell 20 percent, to about 235 million tons, by 2008.
Industry consultants, government forecasters and even some public officials had been warning for decades that, someday, this would happen. In 1995, for example, a report by the U.S. Bureau of Mines cautioned that, based on current production levels and known reserves, Boone County “will be able to sustain mining activities for no more than 20 years.”
“Central Appalachian coal mining is in decline because the thickest, easiest-to-access seams have been mined out and because natural gas and renewables are getting cheaper,” Evan Hansen, co-author of the Downstream Strategies report, said this week. “This is a reality that we need to address head-on, whether or not [the] EPA issues new regulations on coal-fired power plants.” [Charleston Gazette-Mail, 7/31/14]