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People Are Literally Praying For Coal

But they shouldn't be.

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

On Monday, a couple of Alabama officials opened a public meeting with a religious prayer—for the coal industry. "I hope all the citizens of Alabama will be in prayer that the right thing will be done," an official said, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate rule to cut carbon emissions from power plants.

They probably aren’t the only Americans wishing for divine intervention. This week, the EPA is hearing from some of its most outspoken critics on the impact the proposed climate rule will have on coal country. Big crowds of coal supporters rallied at the public hearings held yesterday in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Colorado, though they were matched by big crowds of environmentalists.

I’ve written both about how climate action benefits the economy and why coal’s predictions deserve a lot of skepticism. But there is another contentious argument coming up repeatedly in the EPA’s hearings—that the new regulations will lead to widespread layoffs in the coal industry. Like other coal arguments, this one looks overstated.

The net job loss from the rule is likely to be small. On one hand, the EPA expects the rule will cost at least 72,000 coal jobs starting in 2021. But it is also expected to create that amount—or more—in clean energy and natural gas as states transition away from coal. Past data, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that previous regulations had a 0.3 percent impact on layoffs. A 2011 study by the Economic Policy Institute suggested that the Administration’s major environmental regulations as of that date had altered economic growth by just 0.1 percent.

Here’s one more reason why the predicted job losses are not as big of a deal, at least in the national economy. As Paul Krugman and my colleague Alec MacGillis have pointed out before, “coal country isn’t what it used to be”—jobs in the industry have fallen sharply by about two-thirds since the 1970s.

Coal jobs

Plus there are other industries to consider. While jobs in skiing and tourism may not be coal jobs, these industries are worried enough about their futures to testify at the EPA’s hearings this week, too. Unlike coal, they support the EPA rule, because climate change poses a bigger threat to economic growth than a single EPA regulation.

Rebecca Leber

Things to know:

LABOR: The National Labor Relations Bureau has ruled that McDonald's is a "joint employer" of workers in its franchise-owned restaurants. This is a huge victory for the labor movement in their quest to organize workers and receive a $15 minimum wage. Alec can bring you up to speed. (New Republic)

IMMIGRATION: Harry Reid may have “complicated” efforts to pass legislation on the border crisis by floating the idea of tying comprehensive immigration reform to the House bill. Not that the prospects of compromise were high before he did so. (Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo)

ABORTION: The last abortion clinic in Mississippi remains standing, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down a state law targeting the clinic’s doctors. “Mississippi may not shift its obligation for established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state,” the three-judge panel said. (CNN)

Things to read:

Obamacare: Greg Sargent has a pretty big story. Stitching together old Senate documents—and quotes some key Senate aides—he’s put together the backstory on why a key section of Obamacare is so vague. That section is at the center of the big Obamacare lawsuit. (Washington Post)

Antipoverty programs: One reason liberals are so hesitant about Paul Ryan's antipoverty plan is that he proposes combining 11 different programs and turning that funding over to the states in a block grant. But as Jared Bernstein writes, block grants are often a backdoor way to cut antipoverty spending. (Washington Post)

Things to watch:

While it’s day two of the EPA’s public hearings on its climate rule, the mostly climate-denier-filled House Science Committee plans to weigh in with a hearing of its own on the EPA’s “failure by design."

Also there’s the border crisis: Congress is still talking about it, even if the chances of passing something are slim.

Things to read at QED:

It’s a myth that food stamps don’t work, and QED has two of the nation’s most trusted researchers on the topic to tell you exactly why. Sean McElwee says there is a quick, easy way Obama can raise workers’ wages. And Danny Vinik shows that Rick Perry’s decision to send the National Guard to the border makes zero sense.