In a Tuesday night speech full of half-truths, demi-truths, and of course, alternative facts, President Trump doubled down on his campaign promise to reinvigorate America’s long-ailing coal and steel industries, promising that under his administration “dying industries will come roaring back to life.” Sure. Meanwhile, in a move that more closely reflects market reality, China announced it is cutting 500,000 coal and steel jobs as it begins shifting its economy away from heavy manufacturing.
The layoffs in China are part of a multi-year plan announced in 2016 to cut 1.8 million combined jobs across the coal and steel industries. China is the world’s second largest economy, but its overall economic growth has slowed recently. In part, this is due to bloated manufacturing industries, like steel. China has been accused of selling steel at less than cost in order to mask its surplus crisis, choking off production across the globe.
Since the campaign trail, Trump has taken aim at the EPA’s environmental regulations, calling them job killers that have crushed the coal and steel industries. China, meanwhile, is notoriously lax when it comes to environmental regulation, yet its own steel and coal industries are dwindling because of market realities.
While Trump has been remarkably consistent in his disdain for climate change policies and environmental regulation, his promises to miners are completely at odds with his business practices. His push for pipelines and fracking will only cheapen the already rock-bottom cost of oil and natural gas, discouraging growth in the coal industry. He’s also promised “clean coal,” a technology that reduces carbon emissions, will bring back jobs, while ignoring how expensive and risky it is.
The new “America first” policy on jobs and environmental regulations is in stark contrast to China, which has instituted an emission trading system similar to California’s. Trump has yet to endorse either carbon trading or a carbon tax, though Republicans support the latter and, historically supported an emission trade system. China’s also invested heavily in infrastructure projects that utilize renewable energy sources, setting new records on wind power and utilizing the world’s largest solar farm. Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan is only hazily sketched, but unlikely to draw on renewable energy.
Even if Trump isn’t interested in China’s climate policies, there’s at least one lesson to be learned: China is reportedly spending $15 billion on training and job placement services for out of work coal and steel miners. If Trump is going to peg the careers of out-of-work miners to a dwindling industry, this Plan-B might be a lifesaver when the jobs, and the industries sustaining them, collapse.