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Richard Branson: Bringing Back Coal Jobs a ‘Stupid’ Idea

Sir Richard Branson speaks at the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in London on Oct. 26, 2016. (Rex Features via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Billionaire Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, called President Trump’s campaign pledge to bring back coal jobs a “stupid” idea.

“I can’t think of anything more stupid than to talk about bringing coal back. Actually, there are some things which are even more stupid, but anyway.  I mean, first of all, digging coal is a pretty horrible job. It kills a lot of people that work in coal mines. Most countries have got rid of that now,” Branson said last week during a Washington Post CEO Series discussion. “The people who were digging coal in coal mines are now working, you know, putting solar panels on peoples’ roofs, you know, working on creating windmills. A whole new revolution of new jobs is being created.”

“America should be setting an example to other countries that are still reliant on coal to show that you don’t have to be reliant on coal anymore,” he added. “Fortunately, China was building a new coal-power station every week and now moving rapidly towards clean energy. They have dirty energy in their face. I mean, the coal, if you go into Beijing and other places, you can hardly see.”

Moderator Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post asked Branson if he thinks China is leading the renewable energy revolution.

“China is definitely leading the clean energy revolution today. They’ve already, I would say, overtaken America, and the reason that the clean-energy revolution is really taking off now is the price they’ve managed to drive solar panels down. I think on some of the more technical things, like battery power, America is still ahead and Europe – but as far as just replacing dirty energy, China, I would say, is moving the quickest,” he said.

Branson was asked if the goals for emissions reductions could still be met if the U.S. officially pulls out of the Paris agreement.

“Well, the United States will be left way behind if it doesn’t keep the momentum going. I mean, China has got a clean-energy revolution going on.  I mean, millions of jobs have been created in clean energy. Europe’s got a clean-energy revolution going on. South America’s got a clean-energy revolution going on and fortunately, in America, 95 percent of business leaders believe in climate change, and they want to do something about it,” Branson said.

“Most of the oil companies in America are investing heavily in technology that will be the technology of the future, when the demand for oil disappears. So it’s not going to be as easy, obviously, if you’ve got an administration that puts barriers up rather than encouraging it, you know, but I think we’ve got to make it happen and we’ve got to get to carbon neutrality by 2050,” he added.

Branson endorsed a tax on carbon as a way to address climate change.

“One interesting thing that I learned yesterday, in one of the TED Talks, James Hansen came up with this brilliant idea a few years ago and that was put a tax on carbon but give 100 percent of that tax back to people in their wage packets, and equally, right across the board,” he said.

“There’s a group of Republicans, George Schultz and others, who have taken up that idea and are pushing the White House right now to accept it. And if you can create a differential between carbon and clean energy, then it just gives the clean-energy revolution, I think, a chance to move even quicker and even more jobs to be created,” he added.

Branson told the audience that he hopes the Trump administration does not “interfere” with marijuana legalization happening in some states.

“We’ve welcomed the states in America that have legalized – we’ve welcomed the states that have set up medical marijuana centers and we pray that this new administration does not interfere and just lets this experiment continue because the experiment is working,” he said. “It’s not resulting in thousands more people taking drugs and, in fact, with the medical marijuana centers, it’s actually helping a lot of people who are benefiting from them.”

Branson also said he remains crestfallen that Virgin America was sold to Alaska Airlines.

“It broke my heart, too. You have this rather strange situation in America that British people – we can own banks in America. We can own spaceship companies in America. We can own hospitals in America. We can own lots of things but we’re not allowed to own an airline, and this has been a really clever move by the big airlines to try to protect their patch,” Branson said.

“They’ve managed to lobby and fight and keep a situation where only people with American passports can own American airlines and so, when we set up Virgin America, we had to bring in venture capital organizations to own it and we were a minority shareholder, and sadly, they had an offer they couldn’t refuse and they sold it,” he added.