In a series of speeches around the country, the president described the terrible toll this dismal record is taking on middle class Americans and those who aspire to the middle class. The causes for the weak recovery are many, but the president singled out the inability of Washington to get the economy into gear and put this deepest post-war recession in the rear view mirror.   

The coal community shares his concern and would like to help. The president has the right ideas for turning the economy around, pledging to “build on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America, and what it takes to make your way into the middle class in America: jobs security with good wages and durable industries…”  

Coal offers all three. Our industry supports 805,000 jobs across the country—in mines from Wyoming to West Virginia, at equipment manufacturers in Wisconsin, at power plants from Indiana to Mississippi, at rail yards in Illinois and at ports from Mobile to Baltimore. Every job in coal mining supports more than three others in allied occupations.  And unlike so many jobs added recently, these are some of the highest-wage jobs in the country, averaging more than $80,000 annually.  As the president knows, you can’t have a middle class without a middle class income. 

Generating income and electricity are only part of the way coal works for Americans. It also helps strengthen a middle-class economy by providing inexpensive electricity to households and industries.  Lower utility bills leave families with more money to spend at the end of every month on their priorities. Affordable power helps our basic industries compete with foreign rivals, stay in America and hire American workers.
The president rightly calls for “durable industries” that have a future.  Here again, coal can help. Our industry has been thriving in America ever since coal replaced wood for energy production some 200 years ago. Thanks to advanced technologies that can make coal among the cleanest ways to provide round-the-clock electricity, coal will be just as important in the future, offering reliable and inexpensive power as the country transitions to more renewable energy sources.  

Americans want a cleaner environment; coal is making it cleaner, slashing power plant emissions by more than three-fourths since 1970 with state-of-the-art scrubbing technology and more efficient plants. That’s important today when coal generates 40% of the nation’s electricity, more than any other fuel.  

But for coal to help the president help the middle class, the president needs to help coal. He recently promised his audience in Illinois that “Whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it.”  One promising place to start would be to tell his regulators to keep coal communities from disappearing under an avalanche of rules and standards. As now proposed, these rules and standards would prevent any new coal plant from using the most up-to-date technology now available—banning plants that are between 70% and 90% cleaner than older ones they replace—and force a third of existing power plants to shut down.  

The first step to strengthening the middle class is to stop hurting it.  Taking a big gamble with the economy and the nation’s future energy supply is not the way to reassure middle class Americans. Nor will damaging the coal industry and risking the hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs it supports grow the middle class.

The president said his task is “to make this country work for working Americans again.” The working Americans in coal communities are ready to help the president.  But they need his administration to help them too.

Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.