Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has attempted to pander to blue-collar voters employed by the fossil fuel industry in the Appalachian region of the United States, declaring “The [coal] mines will be gone if she [Hillary Clinton] is elected”. Demonstrating his adherence to the Republican Party’s platform, Donald Trump has continuously advocated for the use of fossil fuels, including oil, coal, and natural gas, and dismissed any problems associated with climate change and environmental degradation. He attempts to win over Americans from these industries—which employ around 632.1 thousand people—by reinforcing the message that continued fossil fuel extraction will provide jobs and prosperity to Americans. This, however, represents misguided policy. Besides the devastating effects of continued fossil fuel extraction—including global warming and environmental pollution which, yes, are real and significant problems—it would be more beneficial for the United States Federal Government to pursue alternative energy sources and devote monetary resources to desperately-needed infrastructure projects. These alternatives will provide jobs, reduce the amount of money spent on subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and combating health problems resulting from environmental pollution, and take advantage of new energy systems far more reliable, safe, and abundant than oil, coal, or natural gas.
The current costs of subsidizing the fossil fuel industry are enormous. Fossil fuel subsidies are estimated to cost around $38 billion, while some credible estimates range from $10 billion to $52 billion. Fossil fuel subsidies have increased during President Obama’s two terms, antithetical, in some respects, to his commitment on combating climate change as evidenced by the Paris Climate Agreement and the Clean Power Plan. These subsidies enable cheaper extraction and production of oil, coal, and natural gas. The health and human costs of these subsidies, and the continued use of fossil fuels in general, leads to an additional $886.5 billion burden on the U.S. healthcare system and thousands of unnecessary hospital visits and deaths, of which the Union of Concerned Scientists elaborates on further. These numbers do not include the health and human costs due to workplace hazards, especially prominent in the coal industry. While the economic and material benefits of fossil fuel production have been considerable, the past forty years, and in particular the last few, have seen a decline in the industry’s importance to the U.S. economy. Falling oil prices and sharply decreased production of coal show that these industries no longer represent the future of American energy—especially as most of these resources are located outside of the United States in the Middle East, Central Asia, or Africa. Crafting sound public policy requires vision that goes beyond political pandering. Investing in fossil fuel industries is almost certainly a pursuit of unhappiness.
Indeed, there’s another way! Transitioning government funds to more vigorous investment in America’s infrastructure and alternative energy sources will provide both jobs and new, clean, virtually limitless sources of energy. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, over 4 million jobs are available in the Clean Energy industry—and growing rapidly. Furthermore, the EESI provides a list of all the potential sources of renewable and alternative energy—biogas, biomass, fuel cells, wave power, geothermal, biofuels, solar, wind, and nuclear, among others. Costs for producing these sources of energy, especially in wind and solar, are dropping rapidly, incentivizing investment in these industries. Shifting resources from subsidizing fossil fuels to subsidizing alternative energy sources and reducing regulations to encourage private investment in renewable energy will increase the number of jobs while providing energy that is more friendly to the environment and its inhabitants.
Furthermore, America’s infrastructure is in dire need of improvement. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated in 2013 that the U.S. would need $3.6 trillion in infrastructure investment by 2020 in order to repair and maintain bridges, roads, and water processing plants, among others. The ASCE also gave the U.S. a “D+” in rating America’s infrastructure—in other words, abysmal. While tackling this massive issue would require more tax and budgetary maneuvering than solely reducing subsidies for fossil fuels, increased focus on repairing infrastructure is an absolute must—considering that U.S. spending on infrastructure only accounts for 2-3% of U.S. GDP and rebuilding that infrastructure can create 13 million jobs.
None of these proposed solutions will likely happen but they are viable policies exceedingly better than the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels, even if that is the easier option. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders emphasized these types of policies, but they have been marginalized by the politically charged rhetoric of Donald Trump. This result is unfortunate; these types of policies not only help the environment but can appeal to the practical voter in need of an income. The potential for energy beyond oil, coal, or natural gas should be spread enthusiastically so politicians—like Mr. Trump—cannot continue to use the illusory promise of jobs to the detriment of the health and prosperity of America and its citizens.