Before I begin criticizing Trump’s nonsense, a word to the Democratic Party: you failed Appalachia. You could have proposed economic solutions to help Appalachian workers who had nowhere to turn from coal, but instead you kept toeing the neoliberal capitalist line. This is why why voters didn’t turn out for you in Pennsylvania and why they haven’t turned out for you in West Virginia for two decades.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to Trump’s claims that he’ll magically bring back the coal industry and why that’s a load of crap. Coal has been a dying industry since 1980, when it peaked with over 250,000 employees. Now only about one-fifth of those are employed to operate mines. Appalachia’s mines are aging, and they are becoming increasingly expensive to operate.
These issues, combined with technological advances, mean that more and more miners are displaced by machines. In addition, the coal industry is facing fierce competition from natural gas, a rapidly growing industry that is poised to grow even faster thanks to Trump’s deregulations on pipelines.
But no amount of environmental deregulation on Trump’s part is going to save Appalachian coal mining jobs. Not that he cares, of course: Trump doesn’t give a damn about Appalachia, and he’s made that perfectly clear through his decisions.
One of the many agencies Trump is currently trying to eliminate is the Appalachian Regional Commission, which works to fight poverty, provide economic stimulus and invest in communities in the region. One especially important role played by the ARC is its work setting up water treatment plants.
Many Appalachian communities near coalfields have little to no access to clean water — their water sources have been contaminated by coal. But Trump isn’t going to revitalize Appalachia, he’s going to let it die.
Appalachia doesn’t need false promises of reviving a dead industry. It needs comprehensive anti-poverty and employment programs. Programs could be implemented to convert former coal mines into renewable batteries that can store the electricity generated for green energy plants built on site; these could be operated by former coal miners — a precedent for this has been established by a coal mine in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Technical schools could be built for former coal miners as well as young Appalachians to provide the technical skills needed to operate solar and wind farms built to provide energy for the region and beyond.
Moreover, this network of green energy plants could be managed by their workers through self-management and democratic councils, forming a federation of workers’ syndicates and sharing in the revenues generated.
A small universal dividend for the entire Appalachian region from the revenue generated by the energy farms could be established, similar to the Alaskan Permanent Fund, which distributes a portion of the profits generated from Alaska’s oil to the state’s citizens.
But these aren’t the kinds of programs that the Trump administration is going to implement. These programs can only be won through an active movement of Appalachian workers, employed and unemployed alike, organizing and mobilizing through a variety of tactics, including general strikes, tax boycotts and occupation of workplaces and government buildings.
Only through direct action, in the same vein as Sid Hatfield and the UMWA and by a coalition of the Appalachian workers themselves, can Appalachia be saved.