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Why They Are Angry


By Luke Popovich

If nothing else, the presidential campaigns have proven one important thing: Americans are unhappy with the governing class. Why they are unhappy is in dispute, but that they are unhappy is not.

Not unhappy as in “I’m unhappy with my cable offerings,” but as in Syrians are unhappy with daily bombings.

Recall those “peasants with pitchforks” who supported Pat Buchanan’s quixotic quest for the White House? They’ve now metastasized from a motley minority to a sizeable and serious cohort of active voters. They’re ready to back Trump or Sanders, different as these candidates are, for the sole reason that both promise to break up an entrenched arrangement that is seen to no longer serve the needs of the average person.

Let’s concede the varied reasons for populist anger. Many working people haven’t had a raise in a decade. Many aren’t working and would like to, and many who are working can almost earn more staying home. Common to most all of the disaffected and disenfranchised is the feeling that nothing they do matters, nothing they think or feel results in anything good. They feel doomed to becoming irrelevant afterthoughts to larger institutions that impose on them rules and costs they don’t want and priorities and attitudes they don’t share.

The cogs are many, the wheels are big.

Coal knows the feeling. In coal communities across the country, people may not vote for Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, but they get why their insurgency is confounding the wise men here in Washington, the financiers on Wall Street and the editors at The New York Times. For why they’re mad as hell, look no further than the White House.

Here is an administration that doesn’t care what you think, what your elected representatives believe you think, or what your state government wants for you. It’s an administration that needs you to vote to confer legitimacy but not to suggest how it should actually govern.

Why consult the opinion of the Great Unwashed in the provinces? It’s time-consuming, tedious and — here’s the main objection — unnecessary when we know what’s best anyway. That’s a fair assumption of the thinking behind a modus operandi that consistently and relentlessly creates “solutions” we don’t need, for problems we don’t recognize.

The Gallup organization last year found less public concern for global warming than it did in 2008, when the president first started sermonizing about climate change 24/7. A February poll conducted by Morning Consult found 54% of registered voters “totally approve” of using coal to generate electricity. My neighbors are more indignant over the lack of street parking than the lack of revenue they’re supposedly missing from the coal lease program. So what? says the Obama administration.

Coal knows all about the Olympian claims of executive authority favored by this president. No industry has been pushed around by Washington more than ours. We have seen how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Interior (DOI) mandarins issue regulatory edicts that skirt congress, test the limits of legislative authority and then pay lip service to transparency.

The EPA brought in environmental activists to write power plant regulations that tell us to use less electricity, then boasted of the public hearings it held in cities where coal wasn’t present. The DOI placed a moratorium on federal coal leases, ignoring the copious and detailed testimony from the NMA that refute the political rationale it continues to use. All this accompanied of course by tiresome platitudes about “smart” regulations that will save (fill in the blank): your kids, the planet, endangered bats, the Grand Canyon.

A perfect example of indifference to coal nation is the Office of Surface Mining’s (OSM) Stream Protection Rule. The agency spent six years developing a 2,139-page rule that will vandalize the coal industry while defying its legal obligation to consult with state agencies charged with implementation. No surprise that 17 of those states were angry enough to write OSM’s director demanding he furnish information and rationales to justify a massive regulation they believe is unnecessary. He refuses to do so.

Beltway pundits watching every blip on this year’s election screen warn darkly that a political radical may soon occupy the White House. To understand why, they should get out more.

Luke Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.