Clinton talks up clean coal, says she can bring steel jobs back to PA

Clinton has mostly focused her campaign message on coal workers and their families, rather than addressing the difficulties producers of the fossil fuel have been facing. (Image courtesy of Clinton’s official campaign site)

Fresh off a bounce in the polls, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is promising to revitalize Pennsylvania communities hurt by a downturn in the coal and steel industries.

The former First Lady and Secretary of State under President Obama accepted the nomination by the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Friday. A Reuters/Ipso poll released the same day showed Clinton, who is running neck and neck with Republican nominee Donald Trump for the presidency in November, is leading Trump by 6 percentage points. According to the poll taken between July 25 and 29, nearly 41 percent of voters favour Clinton, compared to 35 percent who picked Trump and 25 percent who marked “Other”. 

While in Philadelphia Jon Delano of KDKA-TV, part of CBS News, took the opportunity to button-hole Clinton on her policies for helping coal and steel workers displaced by, among the chief factors, bankruptcies by major U.S. coal producers, cheaper natural gas, low coal prices, weak global demand for coal and steelmaking, and depleted supply in America’s coal-producing regions. The United States has also accused China of unfair trade practices, namely, dumping steel to gain marketshare.

Coal is a different issue because we’ve got to figure out — is there a technology that can create clean energy from coal?

Excerpts from their conversation, which can also be viewed on video, appear below:

Delano: As you know, Donald Trump has made a big play for this region.
Clinton: Yes.
Delano: Many people think he will carry every county out here except Allegheny. Can you be very specific? What is it you’re going to do for those coal miners, those steel workers, and others who have lost their jobs?
Clinton: First, I am really proud to have been endorsed by the steelworkers. We are going to have the biggest infrastructure program to create new jobs — to build roads, bridges, tunnels, ports, water systems, that we’ve had since World War II.

Delano: Can we bring back coal jobs as Donald Trump says? Can we bring back steel jobs?
Clinton: Well, we can certainly bring back steel jobs because once we really handle the unfair trade practices that have undercut our steel industry causing layoffs and plant closures, we’re going to make it really clear to the rest of the world we’re not sitting by and watching our steel industry go any further down.
Delano: But what about coal?
Clinton: Coal is a different issue because we’ve got to figure out — is there a technology that can create clean energy from coal?

“If we put our minds to it, we’re going to revitalize coal country. Towns that have been knocked flat, we’re going to help them get up. We can do that with infrastructure, with advanced manufacturing. We can do that with clean energy. So I’m excited because there are lots of examples of what’s working. Pittsburgh — look at the way Pittsburgh has reinvented itself. I remember what Pittsburgh looked like 30 years ago, Jon. I was here, and I’m thrilled,” she said.

Pennyslvania is considered to be one of the key swing states that Clinton needs to win in order to beat Trump. A recent, heavily-circulated article by renowned left-wing pundit Michael Moore says Trump need only win four swing states – assuming voters vote Democrat or Republican in all other “red” or “blue” states: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The two largely unpopular candidates seem to be matching rhetoric with rhetoric. Earlier in the primaries, Trump criticized Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency for over-regulating the industry, particularly new emissions-control regulations on coal-fired power plants. Trump also trumpeted – pun intended – clean coal at the time, saying, “I want clean coal, and we’re going to have clean coal and we’re going to have plenty of it. We’re going to have great, clean coal. We’re going to have an amazing mining business.”

While both Trump and Clinton see “clean coal” – which refers to a range of technologies from scrubbers for reducing air pollution to the holy grail, carbon capture and storage,  as the answer to revitalizing an industry most consider to be in sunset – the technology has not yet caught up to its promise. “A model carbon-capture plant being built in Mississippi has encountered repeated delays and huge cost overruns that will make it one of the most expensive power plants ever built. The coal industry complains that carbon capture has not received the government incentives showered on renewable energy,” notes an article that ran in May analyzing Trump’s “coal jobs” promises.

The reality too, is that governments have limited sway over the fortunes of the coal and steel industries, whose futures depend on supply and demand factors unrelated to government intervention.

The Morning Call article quotes John Deskins, director of an economic-research bureau at West Virginia University, saying that with U.S. coal production dropping 10 percent this year, due not only to declining domestic demand, but depletion of the fossil fuel in heavily-mined Appalachia, “It is very unlikely we will see a return to levels of coal production like we observed in 2008,” the most recent peak in West Virginia, Deskins told the publication.

According to the U.S. Labor Department there were 57,600 coal mining jobs in the United States in March, compared to 84,600 in 2009.

Clinton has been criticized by Trump and others for a comment she made on television in March regarding lost coal-mining jobs. In a town hall meeting aired by CNN, Clinton said she would help coal country create renewable energy “because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?” However the presidential candidate then clarified what she meant, saying “We’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.”

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