The United Mine Workers of America have a unique gift for self-sabotage.
It’s not unusual, for example, for a labor union to come out in favor of a Democratic candidate. It’s more unusual when that candidate, Joe Biden, advanced a program that would clearly do away with jobs in coal at the expense of affordable energy independent of China, Russia or the Middle East.
It gets more unusual when one of the Biden administration’s first energy moves was to engage with China to sign an agreement which, among other things, aimed to tie both countries to their goals under the Paris climate accords. At the time the agreement was reached last week, the president hadn’t announced what our goals under the Paris accords were, since he’d just rejoined the agreement after former President Donald Trump’s administration pulled out of it.
On Thursday, during a virtual climate summit hosted by Biden, that goal was announced: a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. Watching all of this — as well as the rest of the climate summit, a thoroughly performative affair which needed to be seen to be believed — one would have thought the UMWA would have, at the very least, backed away gently from the administration. The writing had been on the wall for weeks and on Thursday, Biden had, in the space of his introductory remarks, pledged America to culling the mining industry’s numbers.
The question, therefore, asks itself: Will this be the thing that causes the UMWA to end its Stockholm syndrome-like relationship with Biden?
It’s unlikely, given the fact they came out earlier in the week in favor of Biden’s green jobs initiatives — provided Congress set aside money to retrain mine workers.
“We’re trying to, first of all, insert ourselves to the extent that we can in this conversation because our people, a lot of coal miners in this country, their families have suffered already some traumatic losses,” UMWA President Cecil Roberts said in an interview with NBC News.
The UMWA president officially came out for the plan at an event with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — trés subtle! — at an event Monday.
But in a separate interview with The New York Times, Roberts seemed to indicate some of this support was contingent on support for miners who would lose their jobs.
“There needs to be a tremendous investment here,” Roberts said. “We always end up dealing with climate change, closing down coal mines. We never get to the second piece of it.”
A proposal from Roberts, laid out during the event Monday, includes creating new jobs in Appalachian coal mining territory through tax breaks for solar panel and wind turbine manufacture, money for the reclamation of abandoned mines over public health concerns, investment in carbon capture, a pledge to allow coal plants that adopt carbon capture to remain open, and funds for retraining miners and replacing lost wages and benefits, according to The Times.
While some of that is in Biden’s bloat-fest of an infrastructure program, much of it isn’t, and Roberts said that many of the jobs the Biden administration said would replace coal jobs wouldn’t actually replicate the kind of salary a coal miner would take home.
“I have no doubt that President Biden wants to create good-paying union jobs, but currently, the jobs that are being discussed here are not good-paying union jobs. They’re a fraction of what a coal miner makes,” Roberts told NBC.
Coal industry jobs pay an average of $75,000, which isn’t necessarily an easy figure for the administration to hit — particularly since the reason they need to do it has to do with rejoining the Paris agreement with a pledge to cut carbon admissions that’s ambitious to the point of stupidity. That’s especially true since our nation’s biggest geopolitical and economic rival, China, is merely pledging to hit peak carbon emissions by 2030, not slash them by half.
China has defended this on the basis that developed countries like the United States ought to shoulder more of the burden: “Developed countries need to increase climate ambition and action,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said Thursday, according to the South China Morning Post.
“At the same time, they need to make concrete efforts to help developing countries strengthen the capacity and resilience against climate change, support them in financing, technology, and capacity building and refrain from creating green trade barriers, to help developing countries accelerate the transition to green and low-carbon development,” he added.
Leave aside the specious argument presented by the world’s largest carbon polluter that, if climate change represents an existential threat to the world, then their emissions are somehow more moral and less damaging because they’re less developed. China wants to be unequally yoked to the Paris accords while still having a seat at the table as one of the world’s great superpowers. Their jobs won’t be the ones cut down.
And Biden is perfectly all right with this, given that his administration reached an agreement just last week which established the Paris agreement carbon benchmarks as the basis for climate-change cooperation between Beijing and Washington. The UMWA is apparently all right with this, so long as they get their learn-to-code money.
Miners, you may not be surprised to learn, aren’t quite as cool with it.
“It’s not fair to take somebody’s job away from them and push them into another career,” West Virginia coal miner and UMWA member Ryan Cottrell said in an interview with NBC News. “I love my job. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world. And I hope coal is continued to be mined for years after I’m gone.”
Cottrell, who has worked the midnight shift at the mines so as to spend time with his wife and children, urged politicians to look at carbon capture technologies, which allow carbon dioxide waste from coal to be stored.
“Don’t fix something that isn’t broke, make it better. Instead of ‘let’s fix the problem with the coal,’ it’s like, they don’t want to do that. They want to kill it,” Cottrell said. “They just want to wipe us out — well when they’re doing that, they’re causing states to go under and West Virginia is one of them.”
As the conservative think tank the Committee to Unleash Prosperity noted, “The livelihoods of more than 50,000 coal miners just got sold down the river by their own union bosses. Seldom have we seen a better example of the Union Bosses cutting deals with Dem politicians and slitting the wrists of their rank-and-file members.”
And there’s the rub: The UMWA isn’t about protecting the interests of its members. Rather, they are first and foremost a political arm of the Democratic Party.
The cognitive dissonance here is absolutely stunning: If you take its members’ livelihoods, if you take away the UMWA’s existential reason for being, as long as chimerical money for job training comes in, it’s OK. And if it doesn’t, it was probably the Republicans’ fault, anyway.
As for the rank-and-file, the Stockholm syndrome needs to end now. One cannot, in good conscience, support the UMWA while it destroys livelihoods along with America’s energy independence.
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