Monday, November 21, 2016

Trump faces an uphill battle to fulfill his promise to revive the U.S. coal industry

Loss of coal jobs (NYT graphic)
President-elect Donald Trump's promise to put coal miners back to work helped him win battleground states Ohio and Pennsylvania and score easy victories in other coal-heavy states, Clifford Krauss and Michael Corkery report for The New York Times. But Trump could have a hard time delivering on his promises, they report.

Coal’s No. 1 rival, cheaper natural gas, "could become an even more potent competitor under the incoming administration," Krauss and Corkery write. "The probable easing of restrictions on pipeline building and loosening of rules on gas exploration and production would mean more natural gas reaching the market."

Ted O’Brien, a coal analyst at Doyle Trading Consultants, a leading energy industry research firm, told the Times, “I don’t think the Trump presidency will have a material impact on bringing coal miners back to work. He may eliminate (environmental regulations), but I have a hard time seeing a surge in coal demand.”

Changes in energy consumption (NYT)
Krauss and Corkery write, "The bleak outlook for coal may explain why some of the industry’s executives have been reluctant to comment on how the Trump presidency may help their business: They may be wary of raising false hopes among their workers. And many may be reluctant to repeat past industry arguments that climate change was a hoax. Instead, coal producers would rather have tax incentives to support environmental improvements for coal-fired plants, as a way to ensure coal’s long-term viability even beyond a Trump administration."

Another factor in lost coal jobs is automation, Krauss and Corkery write. "High-tech shears can now shave coal from underground seams—work that formerly required hundreds of miners. Surface mining, which has been increasing in recent years, has also replaced many workers with heavy machinery." There are about 50,000 coal jobs in the U.S., down from 250,000 in 1980. Most of the losses are in Appalachia. (Read more)

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