The Snake: Trump’s Coal/Rural Allies’ Rude Awakening
March 19, 2017
Above, during the campaign, candidate Trump was fond of reading a bit of dog-whistle doggerel about a kindly woman who shelters a bedraggled snake, only to come to grief, because, well you know why..
“You knew I was a snake when you took me in..”
During the campaign, Donald Trump billed himself as the “last shot” for coal country. He alone could save regions like Appalachia that had long suffered from poverty and dwindling coal jobs. And voters in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky believed him — choosing Trump over Hillary Clinton by wide, wide margins.
So it’s striking that President Trump’s first budget proposal would slash and burn several key programs aimed at promoting economic development in coal regions — most notably, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Economic Development Administration. In recent years, these programs have focused on aiding communities that have been left behind as mining jobs vanished.
Even some of Trump’s staunchest allies were livid at the proposed cuts. “I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the President’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, a senior House Republican from a key coal-mining district in southeastern Kentucky.
So what gives? It’s possible Trump just didn’t put much thought into these reductions — and didn’t realize (or didn’t care) that he was backhanding his biggest supporters. Or it’s possible Trump genuinely believes he’s going to bring back coal jobs in Appalachia, as he’s promised, and hence figured there’s no need for all those other government programs.
Except Trump can’t bring back all the mining jobs that have disappeared over the past 30 years — it’s just not feasible. That’s a promise he won’t keep. And now he’s cutting the region’s safety net, too.
In 1965, unlined wastewater lagoons holding chemical sludge spilled contaminants into a nearby tributary stream of Muskegon Lake, separated only by dunes from Lake Michigan.
In the years that followed, Kathy Evans would eat the fish her father caught out of the lake. But not all of them. While cleaning his catch, Evans’ father would toss a few fish in the trash — the smell of chemicals and petroleum was too strong to stomach.
Today, Muskegon Lakes’ fish are designated as safe to eat as other lakes in the region thanks partly to millions of dollars in federal funding. But the funding that saved Muskegon Lake and dozens of other Michigan waterways is in jeopardy under the Trump administration’s 2018 budget, which proposes cutting the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to zero.
In a move that threatens Michigan’s ecology and economy, the White House on Thursday proposed to slash Environmental Protection Agency funding by 31 percent and go further to eliminate the GLRI, which was reported earlier this month to see a cut of 97 percent in early budget speculation.
At Muskegon Lake, small portions of the overall cleanup predating GLRI, started in 2010, had large economic impacts. The work tied to a $10 million grant under the Troubled Asset Relief Program during the Great Recession in 2009 led to 6.6 times that amount return on investment, according to a 2012 study by Grand Valley State University.
The single project, removing toxic sediment from the shoreline, boosted property values by $12 million, creating $600,000 in new annual tax revenue and led to 65,000 more visitors to the lake, Evans said.
However, most municipalities and states don’t have the “political will” to finish the projects without the federal funding, said Candace Miller, Macomb County Public Works commissioner and former Republican U.S. representative.
“I am very cognizant of the deficit and understand we have to have budget cuts, but this isn’t the way,” Miller said.
Miller is overseeing a project in Macomb County funded by GLRI that will rehabilitate the Clinton River spillway — most recently funded by a $5.7 million GLRI grant. That project will be completed this year, narrowly avoiding the cuts.
Miller said the project is critical to the vitality of local communities, but also the Trump administration’s threats to cut GLRI ring hollow.
“I am in support of many of the things Trump is trying to do, but this is a principal advocacy of mine,” Miller said. “This is a really small amount of money, really, and it’s of great significance to the states that voted for him. These states can’t absorb (this cut). This is a time where I hope the president will reconsider.”
Trump won five out of the eight Great Lakes states — Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. New York and Minnesota went to Hillary Clinton.
Trump wants to kill two big programs aimed at helping coal country
First, Trump’s proposing to eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an independent agency set up in 1965 “to address the persistent poverty and growing economic despair of the Appalachian Region.” Since October 2015, the ARC has invested $175.7 million in 662 projects around the region, with a disproportionate focus on “distressed” counties and coal towns. In some places, that means new highways or broadband infrastructure. In others, it means grants to help former coal communities develop, say, outdoor recreation industries instead.
A government review estimated that, last year, the ARC created or saved at least 23,000 jobs and provided 25,500 households with infrastructure services such as water or broadband. There have been criticisms of the program over the years — it’s odd to have a standalone agency for this one region, and the ARC often focuses on bigger towns and neglects rural areas — but it’s also broadly popular with Democrats and Republicans alike in Appalachia.
Second, Trump is proposing to zero out the Economic Development Administration (EDA), which sits within the Commerce Department and provides about $250 million per year in grants to support economic growth in certain regions. During the Obama years, the EDA began devoting a sizable portion of that money to coal communities around the country that were suffering economically as cheap natural gas and new air pollution rules shriveled the coal industry. (The EDA also supports non-coal communities, providing trade adjustment assistance and other services.)
It’s unclear if the White House conferred with coal-state politicians before proposing these cuts. Rogers, who helped double the ARC’s budget as chair of the House Appropriations Committee from 2011 to 2016, was absolutely scathing in response:
While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the President’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive.
In particular, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has a long-standing history of bipartisan support in Congress because of its proven ability to help reduce poverty rates and extend basic necessities to communities across the Appalachian region. Today, nearly everyone in the region has access to clean water and sewer, the workforce is diversifying, educational opportunities are improving and rural technology is finally advancing to 21st Century standards. But there is more work to be done in these communities, and I will continue to advocate for sufficient funding for ARC and similar programs, like the Economic Development Administration.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of the few Democrats who tends to side with Trump on various issues, told constituents at a town hall on Thursday that he was not happy with these cuts, either.
Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader who hails from Kentucky, has stayed silent so far. In the past, McConnell has vocally opposed efforts by his colleagues to defund the ARC — though he has supported reforms to the program. On Thursday, all he would say was: “I look forward to reviewing this and the full budget when it is released later this spring.”
Small-town America relies on a steady flow of doctors from around the world to deliver babies, treat heart ailments and address its residents’ medical needs. But a recent, little-publicized decision by the government to alter the timetable for some visa applications is likely to delay the arrival of new foreign doctors, and is causing concern in the places that depend on them.
While the Trump administration is fighting, in the courts of justice and public opinion, for its temporary travel ban affecting six countries, the slowdown in the rural doctor pipeline shows how even a small, relatively uncontroversial change can ripple throughout the country.
In Montana, for example, where nine counties do not have a single physician, it means Benefis Health does not know when a Romanian doctor trained in kidney transplants will arrive. The health care company spent months recruiting the doctor and had been expecting her in July.
“Our health system already has nine months invested in her, and now we have no idea when she can start,” said Erica Martin, who recruits doctors for the company.
The doctor, Silviana Marineci, who is completing a fellowship at the University of Minnesota, said she was frazzled by being in limbo.
“I won’t have an income, I don’t know if I will afford rent, I don’t know where I will be,” she said. “It’s insane.”
President Trump’s job approval rating has dropped to a new low of 37 percent, according to the latest Gallup tracking poll.
Only 37 percent of respondents approve of the job the president is doing, compared to 58 percent who disapprove.
The daily results are based on interviews with about 1,500 adults. The margin of error is 3 percent.
The drop comes as Republicans pitch the GOP healthcare plan, seeking to rally members behind their proposal to repeal and replace ObamaCare.