In 2008, when Obama took office, almost 18,000 coal miners were employed in Kentucky, 14,000 of them in Eastern Kentucky. Today, fewer than 6,000 miners remain in the region. Yet the real cause of the industry's decline isn't Obama. It's the free market that Republicans love to embrace. As renewables and natural gas have driven coal prices down, coal jobs have shifted away from Central Appalachia, where coal is more expensive, to Wyoming, where it is cheaper to mine. Mining coal is simply no longer an economically viable option in Kentucky.
If you own a coal-fired power plant, chances are pretty good you aren't impressed with President Obama's new Clean Power Plan. The policy, unveiled yesterday, will further scale back carbon pollution, which is the opposite of what the coal industry wants to hear. For those invested in the "war on coal" talking point, yesterday was striking proof of the conflict.
But pesky details keep getting in the way of the rhetoric. The New Republic's Rebecca Leber argues effectively in a new piece that the industry is struggling badly anyway, for reasons unrelated to the White House.
That will remain true, of course, no matter who's in the Oval Office, whether an administration is combating the climate crisis or ignoring it.
The question then becomes who has a credible plan to assist communities affected by commercial, regulatory, and environmental changes. As Leber's piece makes clear, the Obama administration has proposed "a stimulus for coal country," which would include "job training for laid-off workers and investments in health care and retirement security for miners and their families." Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D), not surprisingly, supports the initiative.
And then there's the Republican plan -- which is nothing.
To be sure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has launched a spirited fight against the Clean Power Plan and every other proposal the president has offered to address global warming and reduce carbon emissions. But the Kentucky Republican has also chosen to ignore, at least thus far, the White House's plan to assist miners.
McConnell's alternative approach is, well, let's just say it's about as detailed as the Republican alternative to "Obamacare," which is comparable to the Republican alternative to the Iran nuclear deal, which is roughly in line with the new Republican immigration plan.
The fight over reducing carbon emissions will continue -- domestically and internationally -- and a large army of lawyers will be awfully busy challenging the Clean Power Plan for quite a while. But as things stand, President Obama has a credible plan to address the climate crisis and assist miners hurt by the changing landscape. Mitch McConnell's plans on both fronts remain elusive.