Coal Mine Paradise

In promising to revive the faltering coal industry, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump rhapsodizes about how much miners love their vocation.

He makes it sound as if they can't wait to leave their homes to descend into dark, damp pits filled with toxic dust and other hazardous pollutants. Moreover, it is there that the potential for a deadly mine shaft collapse and flooding is always lurking.

Celebration of this dangerous vocation is odd coming from the mouth of Trump considering his 1990 Playboy Magazine interview. Noting the prevalence of black lung disease among miners from exposure to coal dust, Trump declared that "If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don't have the imagination -- or whatever -- to leave."

Do the miners dote over their jobs as today's Trump posits? They certainly love the pay check which can run as high as $100,000 annually. Other positives are that a close-knit fraternity is frequently formed among miners below the earth's surface, and that they do take pride in their work.

But what about the actual nature of the job in menacing, cramped, subterranean quarters? For most, it is a matter of necessity. There is no other available employment option, not to mention that many are not trained for an alternate job with a comparable salary.

Miners in general are not impervious to the significant inherent risks associated with their profession. Chances are if they had a viable safer alternative, they would opt out in a heartbeat, even if coal mining had been in their families for generations. Many a miner will confess he is sacrificing his body to provide a better life for his children.

Consider that miners' extended exposure to coal dust and silica (even with protective gear) can cause lethal black lung and other pulmonary diseases that contribute to premature death. Contrast the 77-year average life span of the American male with that of coal miners, who tend to lose as much as 14 years in the comparison.

Trump would be unlikely to make good on his economic revival promise since cheap plentiful natural gas is undercutting the market for coal. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel for idle or soon to be unemployed coal miners if the nation plays its energy cards right.

Although Trump downplays clean, renewable energy as not ready for prime time, reality does not bear him out. A future is emerging for unemployed miners if government subsidized training programs are available to prepare them for the safer well-paying jobs proliferating in the solar, wind and other alternative energy fields.

Already, the International Renewable Energy Agency's latest report discloses that in 2014, solar energy increased by 22 percent, 12 times faster than the total U.S. economy. Concurrently, jobs in the oil and gas industries decreased by 18 percent.

Globally, 8.1 million people are employed in renewable energy, more than in oil and gas which have become highly automated.

The renewable energy prognosis is good for the coal miners and good for the planet, scenarios that so far have eluded Mr. Trump.