PR campaigns to millennials won’t change the fact that coal’s future is dead

PR campaigns to millennials won’t change the fact that coal’s future is dead
© Getty Images

Suppose you left on a trip for a couple days. You return to find out your roommate had thrown a huge party, trashed the place, and left it for you to clean up. Worse, you find out he had billed the booze to your bank account. How would you react when he sidles up to you encouraging you to take another trip? Probably about as well as millennials are reacting to the administration’s latest attempts to sell them on the idea that coal is “cool.” 

A Department of Energy official recently trotted out this line at a coal conference: “We don’t have that many young people in this room and we need them … to understand that coal is important and vital to our economy.” Good luck with that. Set aside for the moment that coal jobs are dwarfed by renewable jobs in the US. Recent GOP firm polling showed majorities of self-identified conservative millennials favoring clean energy — with 58 percent saying they are less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes the development or use of clean energy. Among the larger population of millennials, nearly 80 percent feel that pro-clean energy candidates care more about their families’ future.


Trump’s commitment to this dying industry isn’t new news, but it is disconcerting. America has always been a forward-looking nation, where people took pride in letting the next generation stand on our shoulders.


Now, politicians determined to expand their culture war politics to courting catastrophic climate change are digging a hole that the next generation will have a hard time climbing out of. The fact is, the bills will come due (they’ve already started), and it’s going to hurt. Millennials recognize that this is a totally avoidable crisis.

And for what? So a few more Trump supporting fossil-fuel plutocrats can add another zero to their bank account?  The only jobs created by the administration’s “pro-coal” agenda have been in the boardrooms of coal companies and their K Street lobby shops. Oh, and their high-flying administration enablers like Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittScientific integrity, or more hot air? OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden proposes billions for electric vehicles, building retrofitting| EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels | Kerry to travel to UAE, India to discuss climate change EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels MORE and Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeGuilfoyle named as national chair of Greitens' Senate campaign in Missouri Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview MORE.

As the 2018 US Energy Jobs Report makes clear, coal jobs are stagnant and no one has articulated any viable strategy towards bringing them back, beyond denying climate change and tweeting nonsense. The fact is, no one with any actual money at stake is taking this idea seriously (not even in West Virginia). No one has any real plans to build new coal electricity generation in the U.S. and old, uneconomic plants will continue to retire.  

Ironically, the only real bright spot in coal demand is for “metallurgical coal,” exported to make steel overseas. Yes, the very same steel that Trump recently announced tariffs on because it was undermining American made steel.

It’ll be interesting to see which promise — to steelmakers or Appalachian coal producers — has more weight in the end. Meanwhile, new technologies for making cleaner steel (that would ensure a real future for the industry) languish with minimal support and no real policy backing from this administration.

In addition, coal use for power (which primarily comes from Wyoming, not Appalachia) continues its steady decline in the U.S. relative to gas and renewables — a trend which shows no signs of abating.

This makes sense, since even before you take into account the pollution damage, coal is quickly becoming among the more expensive ways to generate electricity. Technological advances in gas extraction, but more profoundly in production of wind and solar power, have meant that nearly all of new power plants commissioned last year were in these three technologies.  The generation of the future is smart enough to see where this is headed. 

While Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: LeBron James's 'racist rants' are divisive, nasty North Carolina man accused of fraudulently obtaining .5M in PPP loans Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies MORE takes to Twitter and does the bidding of his biggest campaign donors, the rest of the world is charging ahead into the clean energy future. The latest report from the International Renewable Energy Agency shows the stark reality. The world is rapidly embracing clean energy, and the jobs that come with it, and the U.S. is losing ground.

Millenials are not dumb. They understand science and know their generation will have to clean up the mess left by the generations before them.  As they launch their careers, they see the two fastest growing careers in America are solar PV installer and wind turbine technician.  They see renewable energy growing in the US and around the world.  They know coal’s days are numbered, and no goofy tweets or PR campaign will convince them otherwise.

Mike Carr is the executive director of New Energy America, an organization that promotes clean energy jobs in rural America. Previously, he served as principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy.