Coal miner

The coal industry’s decline is everyone’s problem

Despite the backing of the President and billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies to rescue a flagging industry, the largest private coal miner, Murray Energy, filed for bankruptcy.

That makes it the eighth coal company to go bankrupt in a year.

While environmentalists might say good riddance, it couldn’t happen fast enough, the question of what to do with the coal industry is a tough one.

Cleaner fuels like natural gas, solar, wind, and nuclear will supplant coal but what do you do for the tens of thousands of coal workers, the retirees that live off company pensions, and states that rely on it for employment and taxes?

The reflex answer I see most often is job retraining. But this is more an excuse than a serious answer. What’s a 40-year old coal miner doing to learn that makes the same money? C++ and data analytics? Even if he or she did, what jobs are around them?

Mining is considered by many to be honest money for honest work. It is one of the many ever-shrinking areas where someone without a college degree could make a reliable, long-term income large enough to support a family. Even if workers could be retrained and new jobs created, they likely won’t be as good or stable.

And while the transition to cleaner fuels is inevitable, we need to consider how it adds to the growing divide between rural and urban because these high-tech jobs need fewer people, are more urban, and benefit the more highly educated.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we can hold back the hands of progress but we need to plan for the transition better than we have.

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