Written by Beka Cooper, CNN
As Barack Obama’s administration, through its Environmental Protection Agency, worked to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, the former commander in chief released landmark regulations on coal-fired power plants — moves that critics said would shutter coal-fired plants in the United States, lead to increased electricity rates, and threaten to kill thousands of coal miners.
Former Vice President Joe Biden is now championing a carbon tax to combat climate change — although his own climate plan doesn’t mention coal.
Not surprisingly, the carbon tax hasn’t gained widespread support. Most of the candidates, including Biden, have refused to identify whether they would support it, and multiple Republican candidates have taken a different tack, saying they oppose it outright.
But Biden has been criticized more intensely for not mentioning coal miners in his climate plans, even though as Vice President he increased support for coal miners and coal-mining jobs in the Appalachian region.
Here’s why Biden’s climate plan has come under fire — and his omission of coal miners — is notable.
For Biden, coal miners are part of America’s Rust Belt
Biden used to say the hardest working Americans are in his home state of Delaware. But when it comes to supporting coal miners, they seem to have lost their allure.
“Joe was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has great affection for the coalfields of the Great North Woods, but never weighed the impact of putting a miner or other worker out of a job to accomplish a national objective like climate change,” David N. Cohen, a research fellow at the University of South Carolina’s School of Public Policy, said in an email.
Only 11% of Biden’s proposed transition of infrastructure comes from power plants, despite coal being about a third of the US electrical power system, according to a BMI report.
Nevertheless, as a senator from Delaware, Biden pushed for coal miners.
“He himself, as part of his political team, was very interested in seeing additional coal development, continued coal development, along with additional rail services to support the mining industry,” said Hugh Flaxman, who served as Biden’s energy advisor and now directs the Institute for Energy Research, a free-market think tank.
But now that he is running for President, Biden has largely let his party speak for coal miners
Biden’s climate plan does reference energy efficiency, energy efficiency measures, and clean energy, with some attention toward technological progress.
But his sweeping clean energy plan fails to mention any climate plan to invest in renewables. Instead, he will “work to increase support for jobs in the power sector, particularly in renewables, reducing and stabilizing our nation’s carbon pollution,” and “expand investment in advanced manufacturing in America to create the good-paying jobs of the future.”
Instead, there’s just a small nod to national efforts to provide health care and guaranteed jobs to coal miners during that period of transition.
“Joe has been devoted to those issues but with the campaign now ongoing, he probably just wants to see the whole plan and let his party put forward a position,” Flaxman said.
Outsiders are confused by the inaction on coal in Biden’s climate plan
Biden’s and Obama’s focus on climate change and clean energy was cited by business leaders as a key differentiator between Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“For the world to trust the United States on energy policy, we must show the world that Trump cannot control and run the country with an out-of-date vision of energy in which only coal is important,” Richard Raymond, CEO of the Global X Funds and a member of former Vice President Al Gore’s Advisory Board, said in an email.
“Hopefully, the changes that the world has experienced over the last 20 years will finally drive (Biden) to adopt a stronger and more pro-clean energy policy,” Raymond said.
As for mining jobs — although coal is still an important part of the energy portfolio — Biden’s plan leaves coal miners out of the dialogue.
“The sort of grassroots coal workers I know in West Virginia aren’t looking for a silver bullet,” Flaxman said. “They’re looking for an opportunity to be rewarded for the work they do.”