Keeping people employed is a great goal. However, pouring huge resources into and propping up a dangerous and polluting industry that damages the environment and gives people deadly black lung disease is a bad long-term investment in both people and resources.
Yes, it’s sad when people who have traditionally worked in a field lose the option to carry on. But the main reasons so many families have long worked in coal mining for generations is because they were often poorly educated, untrained for other work, and they lived in areas that had few if any other reasonably-paying jobs. Mining has long paid especially well for a job that requires no college education.
Fewer than 77,000 Americans work in the coal industry—compare that to the 3,384,834 Americans who are directly employed by the clean energy industry. That’s right: there are 44 times as many jobs in clean industries, and that number is growing every year. Offering free job training and education to America’s coal workers and making sure they and their families have medical insurance, food and housing support to keep them going for a couple of years while they re-train would result in enormous social benefits to them and those in their communities at relatively low cost. Such an investment in their retraining would provide permanent improvements and social benefits that would help them and their local and national tax bases for the rest of their lives.
Investing in coal miners in this way for just two years would make them healthier (meaning they wouldn’t need huge medical interventions caused by black lung later), much more employable (meaning they’d put tax money back into the local and national economies) and better educated (which makes them more independent and engaged citizens). Many could be retrained to work in the alternative energy sector, which is currently booming. Dragging out the coal industry’s lifespan just postpones the inevitable day of reckoning, exposes more people to killer diseases and further dirties our environment and contributes to global warming.
If we want to improve the lives of coal workers and make American cleaner, safer and stronger and Americans smarter and more employable, investing more resources in coal miners instead of in coal mines and their owners would be the patriotic and financially (and morally) responsible thing for our country to do.