Friday, November 11, 2016

While Appalachian coal advocates rejoice Trump victory, experts doubt industry can be revived

Donald Trump campaigned with leaders of the
West Virginia Coal Association in May in Charleston.
(Gazette photo by Christian Tyler Randolph)
Donald Trump's promise to slash environmental regulations and revive coal has coal advocates in Appalachia celebrating his victory, Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The National Mining Association, industry group Friends of Coal and Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray, one of the most outspoken critics of President Obama's Clean Power plan, have all publicly congratulated Trump.

While the coal industry was rejoicing "economic experts remained skeptical that Trump can really bring back a significant number of mining jobs lost largely to competition with low-priced natural gas," Ward writes. James Van Nostrand, director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the West Virginia University College of Law, told Ward, “In my view, the election is not going to have much impact on the prospects for the coal industry in West Virginia going forward. Environmental regulations were not significant drivers in the decline of the industry, and scaling them back is not going to revive it.”

UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Friday, "We are going to be presenting to the president a variety of options that could end this assault. Whether that immediately brings business back, that's hard to tell because this is a private sector activity."

Ward writes, "While the industry’s 'war on coal' campaign has focused on Obama’s environmental rules, most experts have said that cheap natural gas has played a larger role. In West Virginia, the mining out of easier-to-get coal seams in the southern part of the state and competition from other coal basins in Wyoming and Illinois have helped drive the mining downturn."

Ted Boettner, executive director of the progressive West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, "said the state’s coal industry is likely to continue to decline, unless Trump or the state Legislature decide to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas or 'crack down on renewable energy,'" Ward writes. Boettner also said Trump's victory could hurt legislative efforts to increase federal aid for economic diversification, cleaning up abandoned mine sites and providing financial stability to the pension funds covering tens of thousands of union coal miners.

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