Cecil Roberts, sixth-generation coal miner and now the president of United Mine Workers of America, said Wednesday at the National Press Club that shutting down all of the coal plants in the United States would do nothing to make the planet carbon-free when China’s massive use of coal is ongoing.
Roberts said while climate change believers — including the Democrat presidential candidates — want to shut down fossil fuel production, including coal-fired plants that produce electricity, the plan doesn’t take into account global coal production.
“How are we going to get China with five million coal miners to act on climate change versus 52,000 coal miners in the United State?” Roberts asked.
Roberts said in addition to China’s massive number of coal miners there are two million more in other countries.
He also said that there are 2,000 coal mines operating around the globe and 1,600 new coal mines are opening.
And the call for the shuttering of all of the coal plants in the U.S. ignores that fact that coal has provided an abundance of affordable electricity for more than 100 years.
Roberts was a bit on the defensive during his address, citing that the union he heads is “one of the most progressive” in the country and that his organization does not deny climate change exists and supports the reduction of CO2 emissions.
But some of the proposed solutions coming out of Washington and the mouths of politicians are a direct threat to the men and women Roberts represents.
Roberts said in his prepared remarks:
I speak for those who work in the coal mines today and who only seek to provide a decent, middle-class lifestyle for their families. They are the primary contributors to their local economies and they are proud of what they do and proud of the generations of miners who came before them.
“They are tired of being cast as villains as the world confronts climate change and are insulted by the condescension of so many who believe they know what is best for miners and their families,” Roberts said.
Roberts said the coal industry has faced a range of challenges in recent years, including a 38 percent reduction of coal mining jobs since 2007 and bankruptcies that have robbed workers of their pension plans.
“Local governments have lost millions in taxes that coal companies paid, so they have cut their budgets to the bone,” Roberts said. “It is a downward economic and personal spiral that breeds drug addiction, alcoholism, suicide, and family separation.”
“There are a lot of things that keep me up at night,” Roberts said. “One of them is thinking about what will happen if, through the types of policies some are advocating, the coal industry goes away entirely.”
“When people like Michael Bloomberg pledge hunters of millions to kill off the coal industry but not one cent to help these people and their communities, that is unconscionable,” Roberts said, adding that if Bloomberg wants to be helpful he should put his money into technology for carbon capture and storage.
“Which is the only real solution to seriously addressing global climate change,” Roberts asserted.
Roberts said while the Green New Deal sparked conversation, it also is worrisome for coal miners, with the call for ending fossil fuel production and moving workers from that industry to solar, wind, or other so-called renewable energy sources.
“So when our members hear ‘just transition’ applied to them, they are not impressed,” Roberts said. “They know that likely means ‘just no job.’”
Roberts said he hopes President Donald Trump, Congress, and the Democrat presidential candidates will be willing to do the “hard work” to protect the environment and coal miners’ jobs:
We have advanced a proposal, along with several energy unions, to all the presidential candidates that would do just that,” Roberts said. “But we will not sit quietly and watch our members, their families, and their communities be destroyed in the process. There is a way forward here that can accomplish the twin goals of maintaining good jobs for our members and their families and getting the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the world needs.
Roberts also said in his remarks that since 1968, 34,000 workers have died in mines and 76,000 have died from black lung disease.
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