President Trump claimed he has “ended the war on beautiful clean coal.” My colleague Steve Mufson has already briefly noted some problems with this claim, but I’d like to go further here.
The real force that is weakening the coal industry remains alive and well, according to Trump’s own Energy Information Administration. As I explained in a story earlier this month, it is natural gas, made much cheaper by fracking technology.
Natural gas is continuing to displace coal in the electricity sector, and more natural gas plants are joining the electricity fleet while coal plants are closing, EIA noted earlier this month. Meanwhile, U.S. coal production continues to decline.
Coal exports are a slightly brighter story and there has been a small uptick in coal mining jobs in the last year or so – but only a small one. Employment in the industry has not regained its prior size of nearly 90,000 jobs, seen as recently as 2011 to 2012.
It seems unlikely that Trump can change this picture precisely because he favors a policy of American “energy dominance” – which means exploiting all of the country’s energy resources, including our natural gas. And natural gas has just proven to be quite the competitor to coal.
It’s true that Trump’s Energy Department has tried to help out the coal industry through a policy that would favor it in some electricity markets – but the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected it as skewing markets.
And it’s true that repealing the Obama Clean Power Plan is helpful to coal – but you can’t repeal market forces.
Aiding “clean coal” might also be achieved through promoting coal plants that actually capture their carbon emissions and store them underground – a rarity in the U.S.
But Trump’s own administration has proposed sharply cutting research dollars for carbon capture and storage technology.