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About that “war on beautiful clean coal”….

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.

Fact-checking and analysis of Trump’s State of the Union 2018 address

The Washington Post is live-blogging President Trump’s first official State of the Union address to Congress tonight. The speech begins at 9p.m. Eastern time and the president is expected to be, well, presidential.

Post national reporters Ashley Parker and Michael Scherer write that Trump aides say “he will deliver a unifying speech on American values and patriotism, one that touches on everything from the just-passed Republican tax plan and the new immigration proposal to trade, infrastructure and national security. The question is whether the swirl of conflict and diversion that has monopolized so much of his first year in office will distract from the message he is trying to deliver.”

The Post’s chief congressional scribe, Paul Kane, points out that it’s not just Trump whose behavior can be unpredictable — it’s also that of “mercurial” congressional Republicans when it comes to the president.

From Paul: “Sometimes they are in bitter fights with Trump, challenging his nationalist policy approach as an affront to traditional conservatism while also questioning his mental fitness for office. Other times they drift into a deep public swoon for the president that seems to directly contradict their previous criticism.”

Check back here for frequent updates on the speech, including real-time fact-checking and analysis of what the president says on key issues like the economy, national security and infrastructure.

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