The Trump administration is making good on its promises to the coal industry, and struggling coal miners have reason to be optimistic about their future. On Thursday, President Donald Trump signed a measure overturning the Obama administration’s Stream Protection Act. According to the National Mining Association, this rule had the potential to threaten 281,000 positions, many of which belong to millennials.
This important reversal gives new hope to millennials in coal country — a demographic that has increasingly fled their hometowns to find work.
As Luke Popovich, a National Mining Association spokesman, noted when the Senate approved the measure, “This is one very, very important step to get coal back on its feet and stop the hemorrhaging of jobs that we’ve seen.”
One of the most affected targets of President Obama’s “War on Coal” has been the Appalachian region, particularly areas of West Virginia and Kentucky. Back in the 1910’s and 20’s, the coal industry provided more than 700,000 jobs. Now, Appalachian coal mines provide 44,000 jobs. The recent natural gas boom is partly responsible for this decline, but any chance for a comeback in the last decade was all but destroyed by the Obama administration’s anti-coal policies over the past eight years.
Millennials who have spent their lives in this region are suffering the most. Currently, the national unemployment rate for Americans age 16-24 is at 10.5 percent, but in the Appalachian region, the figures are even more startling. West Virginia’s youth unemployment is at a whopping 17.4 percent, and Kentucky’s youth unemployment is at 13.3 percent.
The Stream Protection Act would have been yet another nail in the coffin for the coal industry in these poverty-stricken areas, and would have forced more young people to flee the region in search of employment. Prior to this rule, the Obama administration had placed a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands, and crippled the industry with strict regulations on carbon dioxide emissions.
Back in 2015, The Atlantic went so far as to “imagine” what a post-coal Appalachia could look like (pretentiously assuming that coal was already dead). The article highlighted an entrepreneurial spirit that was supposedly attracting young people back to the region, and suggested that new tattoo parlors, new bars, a moonshine distillery and a vape shop in Eastern Kentucky signaled a revitalization and new spirit in Appalachia.
While these new businesses hardly represent a revival in the region, the article ultimately minimized the adversity of the region’s suffering young people, who have been struggling to maintain their way of life. The next generation is key to the sustainability of any community, and the noticeable dispersion of young people from Appalachia is worrisome.
According to a report from the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research, nearly 1 in 4 West Virginians will be over 65 years old by 2030. Additionally, researchers also say it’s possible the state will lose a congressional seat in 2020 due to the state’s mass exodus of job seekers.
This critical rule reversal symbolizes the beginning of a new era for coal and provides hope that the Obama administration’s other anti-coal measures will be reversed in the near future.