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More bad news for the coal industry

The Trump administration's efforts to revive coal may have hit another snag on Feb. 6, when a study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association pointed to a major increase in the frequency and severity of black lung disease. We've always known that inhaling coal dust was unhealthy, but the new study suggests that mining in recent years has become even more dangerous due to the "thinner, harder-to-reach seams" that mining companies are now targeting in the absence of more easily-accessible coal, according to the New York Times

The health effects of coal often seem to be forgotten in the ongoing war of words about energy, which most often focuses on the environment. However, focusing on health might make it easier for advocates of renewable energy to connect with people on the issue, including those who live in coal-producing communities. While climate change is an abstract subject for the average person, black lung disease, asthma and the many other illnesses linked to coal are a direct and immediate threat that just about anybody can appreciate. You might not want to spend a few bucks extra to help the planet in the long-term, but you probably will if you believe it will keep your kids healthier. 

While coal is definitely on its way out due to simple economic forces, those who are hoping to accelerate its abandonment would be wise to emphasize the health benefits of replacing coal with renewable resources and natural gas. And while the loss of coal jobs will predictably be a sensitive subject in a few coal-producing areas of the country, it's safe to say that most Americans would prefer an energy sector that provides safer jobs, as the gas, nuclear and renewable sectors do. 

The debate over coal is no longer a close call. It's terrible for the environment, terrible for human health and it's increasingly more expensive than alternatives. And yet the president of the United States remains officially committed to saving it. Why?

The good news is that there's not much Trump can do to save coal, particularly now that FERC has rejected the administration's ludicrous proposal to force utilities to subsidize coal producers. Utilities will continue to shutter coal operations, both for economic reasons and under pressure from environmentalists to provide greener power. 

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