Trump digs coal, Trump bails out coal companies. $31 million so far. (Green energy? Forget it.)

  • Published on May 8th, 2020

Coal mining companies, including two with strong ties to the Trump regime, have received $31 million from the Paycheck Protection Program designed to help small businesses stay afloat and their workers employed while much of the economy is shut down as efforts are made to mitigate the health impacts of the deadly coronavirus pandemic. That, reports Ari Natter and Jason Grotto at Bloomberg, irks environmentalists who challenge providing loans to a dying industry whose toxic emissions kill thousands of people every year and add prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide to the already overburdened atmosphere, thus worsening the climate crisis.

coal-fired power plant
Image by Chris_LeBoutillier on Pixabay

By Meteor Blades

Said Jayson O’Neill, director of the Western Values Project, a Montana-based conservation group: “The question is, is this a good use of taxpayer dollars when we have other businesses closing their doors? What is the long term viability of this industry? I would argue we should focus first on the small businesses that are in the most need.” But industry advocates call coal “absolutely critical” and a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association said that since it is afflicted with the same challenges as other industries, its “116,000 Americans directly employed at our nation’s coal mines” deserve to have their paychecks covered by the loans, too. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, however, the last time there were that many U.S. coal mine employees was 1992.

Related: Bankrupt oil and fracking companies are sucking up billions of coronavirus bailout dollars

While the industry asks that it be treated like other industries, it hasn’t been. The Small Business Association, which is handling the distribution of the $659 billion that Congress has approved for loans, classifies coal, oil, gas, and minerals extraction companies as “small” if they have up to 1,500 employees instead of the standard 500. Bloomberg analyzed payroll data and found that the first round of PPP loans covered more than 78% of the industry’s eligible payroll compared to an average for all industries of 52%.

Having highly placed connections makes a difference:

  • Rhino Resource Partners: Based in Lexington, Kentucky, the 605-employee company received a $10 million PPP loan, the maximum allowed under the program. In 2017, Trump chose Rhino’s former chief executive officer David Zatezalo to head up the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
  • Hallador Energy: The company, which hired disgraced former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt as a lobbyist in 2019, got a $10 million loan. The company has 915 employees.

Then there is American Resources, the 147-employee, Indiana-based company that obtained a $2.7 million PPP loan. In January workers at one of its eastern Kentucky mines camped on train tracks to block a loaded coal train because they hadn’t been paid for weeks, well before all but a tiny number of Americans had even heard of the coronavirus.

Justin Guay, director of global climate strategy for the youth-led climate activist Sunrise Movement, told Bloomberg: “The coal industry stands out as the member of the fossil fuel herd that was uniquely sick before COVID ever hit and is even worse off after. So this isn’t a bailout—that would require strong economic fundamentals in the first place. This is a bonfire—we’re just literally lighting our taxpayer dollars on fire because they will go bankrupt regardless. It’s just a matter of time.”

(Crossposted with DailyKos.)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.

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