Is Trump Good for America?
There are many questions and criticisms of President Trump’s decisions and policies. We wonder what motivates him and how will these policies affect the nation in the near and distant future? Let’s look at the issues one at a time.
Let’s look first at Trump’s energy policies without getting deep into the technical science. The President promised to revive our domestic coal mining industry. Presumably, this was done to capture voters displaced by coal’s decline and a lack of alternative careers in their area. Trump doesn’t seem to be interested in whether this is a sound idea or not.
In a nutshell, coal mining is an environmental nightmare just to get it out of the ground. One technique used is to literally blow up mountaintops to expose the coal for strip mining. The mountaintop debris is dumped in nearby valleys altering the natural terrain. This can cause sedimentation and pollution of both nearby lakes and streams as well as contaminating groundwater. Frequently, the coal must be washed to remove impurities and the wastewater held in slurry ponds that can leak or fail, thus releasing their contents. This water is highly acidic and also contains arsenic, copper, and lead. Traditional underground mining is, of course, very dangerous work. Some of the hazards are gas explosions, tunnel collapses and of course, Black Lung Disease. All in all, not a compelling case for coal’s continued use.
The actual burning of coal itself raises additional environmental issues. Its combustion releases much higher quantities of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen, and mercury compounds than natural gas – its main competitor. The pollutants can cause many health issues such as asthma attacks, other lung problems, neurological problems and of course, acid rain. Just the health costs and human suffering alone should be reason enough to phase out the use of coal. As if that’s not enough, coal fired plants generate tons of hazardous ash. This ash is dumped in landfills creating another potential disaster. There is some recycling of the ash in certain building materials like concrete but wouldn’t it be better to stop generating it at all?
Wouldn’t it be better for Trump and his cabinet to level with the coal workers and the rest of the nation? Through no one’s fault coal jobs must and will disappear. Coal is the fuel of the past. Like burning wood or kerosene its time has come and gone. Our country is in dire need of infrastructure rebuilding and environmental restoration to replace lost coal jobs and put people to work in a forward-looking way?
While natural gas burns much cleaner than coal and is currently much cheaper, it has a drawback of its own. A major environmental impact is the leaking of methane gas into the atmosphere. Methane is also considered to be a very potent greenhouse gas. Leaks are found at every stage of production from wells through distribution. Since it is colorless and odorless, leaks are difficult to detect. Research is underway to develop better infrastructure, sensors and drones, and satellites for leak detection most likely America’s gas producers will resist using this technology even though millions of dollars of product could be captured. This is where a strong EPA comes in and we all know that’s going to be a problem for at least two years.
Despite the President’s misstatements, China is responding to climate change in a big way. With some of the worst air pollution on Earth, China is phasing out its use of coal. According to a World Economic Forum article, dated August 2017,(https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/05/china-is-a-renewable-energy-champion-but-its-time-for-a-new-approach/), the Chinese have cancelled plans for 85 new coal fired plants. They have implemented standards to increase energy efficiency in their buildings. In a later article in the Motley Fool from July 2018,(https://www.fool.com/investing/2018/06/04/china-is-using-this-not-renewable-energy-to-replac.aspx), China is vastly expanding the use of natural gas to replace coal. In 2010, they imported 20 million metric tons of liquid natural gas and by 2035, they will import 200 million metric tons. This could be a great opportunity for American producers. You can also bet their systems will not allow valuable product to escape into thin air.
In its response to pollution, China is also going all out on solar power. They are the biggest producer of solar based energy in the world. Roughly 65% of all solar modules are made in China. In another World Economic Forum article from March 2018, (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/03/chart-of-the-day-the-world-will-add-70-000-solar-panels-every-hour-in-the-next-5-years/), the Chinese will have reached a solar capacity of 320 gigawatts by 2022. At present the U.S. stands at 55.9 gigawatts. They even have a floating solar plant that floats over a flooded coal mining area. Isn’t that ironic?
The Chinese are going to spend over 350 million dollars on renewable energy by 2020 with a goal of clean energy meeting 20% of their needs. They are presently outspending us 3:1. This will inevitably lead to Chinese dominance in research, innovation, manufacturing, and exports.
There is an excellent article that appeared in The Seattle Times on March 3, 2018, (https://www.seattletimes.com/business/economy/how-the-american-steel-industry-nearly-committed-suicide-and-not-from-trade/), on the near demise of the U.S. Steel Industry. After WWII, Japan and Europe rebuilt their steel mills using new technology called “Basic Oxygen” furnaces and continuous casting methods. The new methods were cheaper and more efficient than open hearth integrated mills used here. Our companies’ openly resisted updating their processes until it was too late. The article is very informative about steel’s recent history in the U.S. Here we have Donald Trump proposing drastic cuts in research in renewables. A leaked memo also revealed plans to require electric grid operators to purchase power from coal plants.
Meanwhile, China and the rest of the world will zoom into the future right past us as we sit stuck in 1956. President Obama repeatedly called for enticing foreign born students, educated at U.S. universities, to stay in America and use their expertise here. Let’s do that now and put together a real energy strategy that puts us at the forefront of R & D. Over time all fossil fuels will become obsolete so we must begin to prepare for a new kind of society with plenty of disruption along the way. I’m afraid Donald Trump lacks any such vision.