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Despite Trump's Remark, There Is No War on Coal and It's Definitely Not Clean

President Donald Trump's line, "We have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal" drew some of the biggest claps and cheers from Republican lawmakers at last night's State of the Union address.

Energy Sec. Rick Perry, who wants to bail out uncompetitive coal plants, quickly bopped up with a standing ovation. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, who wants to open federal lands to mining, stood up shortly after.


You can watch their enthusiastic reaction here:

But there are a few problems with their boss' remark. First, there is no war on coal. Market forces, the country's glut of cheap natural gas, increased energy efficiency and renewable energy have all contributed to the coal industry's decline.

While the Trump administration has aggressively pushed for fossil fuels and has rolled back a number of regulations, including the Clean Power Plan, to prop up domestic energy, the policies haven't revived the coal sector. Vox noted that "mining jobs have crashed from a high of 800,000 workers in the 1920s to about 76,000 today." Additionally, U.S. coal consumption fell by 2.4 percent in 2017—the lowest level in nearly four decades.

Secondly, there's no such thing as clean coal. Coal is one of the world's most polluting fossil fuels and its combustion is a major contributor to air pollution and climate change.

The Associated Press fact-checked Trump's statement, and wrote:

"According to the Energy Department, more than 83 percent of all major air pollutants—sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, toxic mercury and dangerous soot particles—from power plants are from coal, even though coal makes up only 43 percent of the power generation. Power plants are the No. 1 source of those pollutants.'

Vox pointed out that Trump may simply be confusing "clean coal" with mines that wash or pretreat coal. Or perhaps the president is referring to carbon capture and storage, which collects and stores carbon from coal-powered plants' emissions.

But the process is not only costly and more expensive than installing natural gas, wind or solar systems—many governments are also abandoning the trials that are needed to make it work. Meanwhile, Energy Sec. Perry's most recent budget proposal slashed the clean-coal budget from more than $200 million to only $35 million.

Trump's head-scratching comment was succinctly summarized by the New York Times' columnist Nicolas Kristof:

"Trump says he has ended 'the war on clean coal.' I'd make three points: 1. Coal employment is in long-term secular decline. 2. Newspaper industry has lost more jobs in recent years than coal has. 3. Solar power employs 5 times as many people as coal—and it's the future."

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In an interview with Breitbart News on Sunday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke blamed "radical environmentalists" for the wildfires that have devastated California in recent weeks, The Huffington Post reported.

"I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them," he said in the interview.

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"Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change, and those who deny that definitely are contributing to the tragedies that we are witnessing and will continue to witness," Brown said.

Regardless, Zinke has remained consistent in pointing the finger at forest management. His current criticisms echo his remarks following other fires this August, in which he said the increasingly frequent and violent blazes were the result of inadequate forest management, and not climate change. He continued in that vein during Sunday's interview:

"In many cases, it's these radical environmentalists who want nature to take its course. We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices. But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it's not going to happen. The president is absolutely engaged."

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"You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it's a whole different story," he said, as CNN reported. "I was with the president of Finland, and he said: 'We have a much different [sic] ..., we're a forest nation.' And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem," he added.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, however, told a Finnish newspaper he did not recall suggesting raking to Trump.

"I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network," he said.

Finnish people have taken to Twitter to poke fun at the U.S. President's statement using the hashtag "Raking America Great Again."

Despite Trump and Zinke's criticisms, the fact remains that the federal government controls almost 60 percent of the forests in California while the state controls only three percent. Paradise was surrounded by federal, not state, forests. Further, the fires in Southern California spread in suburban and urban areas, The Huffington Post reported.

Some think the emphasis put by Zinke and Trump on forest management is not about preventing fires at all but rather an attempt to justify opening more public forests to private logging interests.

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with land managers, private landowners, university staff, and the media about federal forestry and land management at Boise State University on June 2, 2017. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

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