Trump’s oxymoronic ode to ‘beautiful clean coal’

FILE - In this March 10, 2006 file photo, Ohio coal miners head into the mine for a shift inside the Hopedale Mine near Cadiz, Ohio.

FILE - In this March 10, 2006 file photo, Ohio coal miners head into the mine for a shift inside the Hopedale Mine near Cadiz, Ohio. (AP Photo/Joe Maiorana, File)

What best explains Trump’s bizarre love affair with coal? Is it just a sop to his base in West Virginia, the state where he’s most popular? Is it nostalgia for the vanished America of the 1920s, when mining jobs peaked? Is it a paean to manly men who embody what he calls “American grit”? Does he sprinkle coal dust on his burgers?

It’s amazing how many lies this guy can pack into a single sentence. During his State of the Union snore, he said: “We have ended the war on beautiful clean coal.”

For starters, there is no “war.” There is, rather, an evolution — a longstanding, laudable shift from polluting energy sources to less-polluting energy sources. We’ve been trending away from coal for generations, in part because coal power plants produce more than 83 percent of all the major air pollutants. That stat comes from Trump’s Energy Department. Roughly 90 years ago, mining jobs peaked at 800,000; today, the number is 76,000 — which is smaller than the workforce at Arby’s.

Those coal jobs aren’t coming back in any meaningful numbers. Trump has “ended” nothing. Indeed, utilities in 2017 announced the closing of 27 coal power plants. Funny how Trump neglected to mention that during his speech. And, natch, he neglected to tell his fans what’s truly trending on the job front. The fastest-growing employment sector over the next 10 years — according to Trump’s Bureau of Labor Statistics — is solar energy installation. The second-fastest job growth? Wind turbine technology.

By the way, it was pathetic that Trump cited the “floods and fires and storms” that plagued us in 2017 — while failing to state the obvious fact that our floods and fires and storms are rendered more severe because of global warming. Which in turn is made more severe by the pumping of fossil fuel pollutants into the atmosphere. And that a hugely disproportionate share of the pollutants — carbon dioxide emissions — come from “beautiful clean coal.” Only a dolt in denial can fail to connect these rudimentary dots.

But I digress. The worst crime against the English language (at least in that portion of his speech) was his use of the phrase “clean coal.” There is no such thing. Clean coal is an oxymoron. There have been periodic efforts to capture the carbon dioxide emissions at coal plants, and to bury those emissions underground; according to energy scientists and coal executives, this process can theoretically make coal clean. But alas, the process “does not work. It is neither practical nor economic.” So says Robert Murray, a Trump supporter and CEO of one of America’s largest mining corporations. That’s why the plug was pulled last year on a clean coal flagship project.

Perhaps Trump would like to subsidize the coal industry. Perhaps he’d like to supply the requisite federal money that could perhaps make clean coal conceivable some day. Um, nope. The Energy Department has an Office of Fossil Energy that actually studies the dream of clean coal, but Trump’s most recent budget proposal slashes the study funds from $200 million to $35 million.

So why the heck did he spew such nonsense during his speech? Because, as always, his credulous fans will believe anything. Because they won’t take the time to find out whether his boasts have any basis in fact. And they’re the only ones who bothered to tune in Tuesday night. The ratings tell the tale: Trump’s first SOTU address drew 45.6 million viewers — 2.4 million fewer than President Obama’s first SOTU (48 million).

Trump isn’t embarrassed about that. He simply tweeted this morning that viewership for his SOTU was “the highest number in history.” His bald-faced lie was made possible by relegating Obama’s stat to the realm of non-existence. If only he would do that with beautiful clean coal.

OK, we have House Republican retirement number 34! Trey Gowdy, the bad-hair Benghazi hunter, is bailing on his South Carolina seat. Never before have so many party members hurled themselves into lifeboats so far in advance of a midterm election. Can’t imagine why.

Many observers have already recapped his serial failed attempts to nail Hillary for turpitude, so I’ll simply pull a factoid from the more distant past. Gowdy won his seat in 2010 after slaughtering incumbent Republican Bob Inglis in a party primary. Inglis was toast because he had dared to tell his right-wing base that global warming was (gasp) real and that it was (gasp) caused by humans.

As Inglis recalled in a 2012 interview, “I had a big tent gathering in Spartanburg County, a bunch of Republicans under a very big tent … And so there comes a question to me from the local Christian talk radio host, who says, ‘Yes or no – Do you believe in human causation on climate change?’ I had a bad habit of answering questions, so I said yes. Boo, hiss, goes the crowd. I was blasted out from underneath the tent. There are a couple hundred, 300 people there. I mean, it was intense.”

If only Inglis had called coal beautiful, he might still have his seat.

But that’s how we got Trey Gowdy. Given the leanings of his district, there’s no reason to believe his replacement will be much better.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.