Trump moves to revive coal industry

A coal mine in Wyoming in the US. Image courtesy of Flickr - Beyond Coal and Gas
A coal mine in Wyoming in the US. Image courtesy of Flickr - Beyond Coal and Gas

US President Trump has this week passed measures aimed at reviving the country's declining coal industry.

The move, which was a major part of his appeal to working-class voters in certain states, is part of a series of steps aimed at removing environmental regulations that Trump refers to as “job killing”.

Specifically, Trump made two major announcements: a review of the Obama-Era Clean Power Plan which restricts CO2 emissions at coal-fired plants, and a lifting of the ban on the federal leasing of land for coal production.

This, combined with a promise to “return power to the states” on environmental issues would, according to Trump, bring jobs back to the coal industry.

“My action today is the latest in a series of steps to create American jobs and to grow American wealth. We’re ending the theft of American prosperity, and rebuilding our beloved country,” remarked President Trump.

Coal jobs long gone

Despite this new measures, it is highly unlikely Trump will be able to create a significant number of new jobs in the coal industry.

Coal producers already have access to more coal than they can mine in 20 years, so additional federal leasing will likely not increase production.

Moreover, production itself is being held back primarily by competition with other forms of energy. Cheap natural gas has challenged coal’s role as the primary source of US energy, while renewable power has become so cheap that it is directly able to challenge coal on price.

On the jobs side, greater automation, and a switch to open-cut mines has meant that while overall coal production in the US has risen slightly over the last 35 years, the number of jobs provided by the industry has more than halved.

Into the future, this trend towards even greater automation and the induction of robotic systems will slash these job numbers even further.

Climate change action in doubt

While the Trump Administration has not (so far) pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a review or repeal of the Clean Power Plan would make it all but impossible for the US to make its agreed targets.

Within this environment, other major world powers, including China, have criticized the US government and called on it to do more to fight climate change.