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Researchers from Indiana University spoke with residents of Williamson, West Virginia, a coal mining town, and found that despite President Trump's rhetoric, many are ready to look beyond coal. (Photo: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr/cc)

Trump's Insistence on Coal Revival Finds Pushback Even In Coal Country

Push for the return of coal mining jobs hurts rather than helps region, study finds

Julia Conley

President Donald Trump pledged to end the "war on coal" by slashing regulations and putting coal miners "back to work." New research, however delivers a rebuke to the moves, indicating that they're harming the very mining communities he's professing to help—and that Americans in "coal country" are far more willing to adapt to new sources of employment.

"I'm beginning to see some real enthusiasm, particularly among young people in small communities in West Virginia, to begin looking for something beyond coal," said one West Virginian who was interviewed by three researchers at Indiana University for the study.

The team interviewed residents of two coal mining towns in the state in July 2016, as then-candidate Donald Trump was making repeated campaign promises to put coal miners back to work by fighting regulations put in place by the Obama administration.

In their resulting report, to be printed in the March 2018 edition of Energy Research and Social Science, the researchers said they found that the federal government would better serve former coal mining communities by investing in professional development programs, education, and healthcare services rather than pushing for deregulation of the coal industry.

One respondent who participated in the researchers' focus groups said, "Coal is probably not coming back, or if it is, it's not what it once was, so I'm going to learn as [many] new and exciting things as I can. I want to get a degree, so I'm more hire-able later on."

Meanwhile, Trump has heralded his rollback of Obama-era rules that limited pollution from coal-fired power plants, assuring supporters that regulations were the cause of the coal sector's 71 percent employment drop since 1985. The researchers found that as many Trump critics have stressed, it's unlikely "that these policy changes will drastically affect the country's current energy transition."

The loss of coal jobs has resulted far more from greater demand for less expensive, cleaner energy production methods like solar and wind power, than from environmental regulations, the study notes.

While Trump has frequently visited Appalachia to tell citizens he will bring their jobs back and retain the deeply-embedded culture of coal mining that exists in the region, the authors of the study found "substantial evidence that Appalachian coal communities are working to shed the culture of coal and develop new opportunities and an evolving conception of identity based on these opportunities," said researcher Sanya Carley.

"I think longer term, it is an opportunity, despite all the pain that people feel to finally diversify our economy, to be healthier, and diversify how we create energy ourselves, to be a kind of a healthier, more vibrant place," one study respondent said of the shift to new sources of energy.

The authors of the study urge the Trump administration to join former coal towns in finding new opportunities for economic development, education, and professional growth for citizens.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

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Poll Shows Majority Oppose Supreme Court's Attack on Fundamental Rights

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they're now concerned the court will attack marriage equality and the right to obtain contraception.

Julia Conley ·


Global Windfall Profit Tax of 90% Needed to Address 'Catastrophic' Food, Climate Crises: Oxfam

Taxing the excess profits of large corporations within the G7 alone could raise an estimated $430 billion to fight world hunger, deliver vaccines to the entire world, and make a giant dent in the fight to drive down fossil fuel pollution and jumpstart the necessary renewable energy transition.

Jon Queally ·


NATO to Boost Ranks of High-Readiness Forces by 650% to Over 300,000

Anti-war campaigners responded that "this is not the path to peace and will not make the world safer."

Jake Johnson ·


Ilhan Omar Says Plan to Fix Supreme Court Must Include Impeachment Probes

"We need an impeachment investigation into Clarence Thomas' role in the January 6th coup, as well as into Gorsuch, Alito, Barrett, and Kavanaugh's testimony on Roe during their confirmation hearings," said the Minnesota Democrat.

Jake Johnson ·


Right-Wing Justices Should Be Impeached for Lying Under Oath, Says Ocasio-Cortez

"We have a responsibility to protect our democracy," said the New York Democrat. "That includes holding those in power who violate the law accountable."

Kenny Stancil ·

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