The Trump administration has reacted to reports that the Earth is going to heat up to life-threatening levels very quickly not by disagreeing with that conclusion, necessarily, but rather embracing fossil fuels because we're doomed anyway. And there is one fossil fuel that President Trump likes above all, the dirtiest one. "We are back," Trump told a crowd in West Virginia in late August, unveiling his new plan to shore up ailing coal-fired power plants. "The coal industry is back."
It doesn't seem to be, though, despite Trump's earnest efforts. On Thursday, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reported that estimated U.S. coal production dropped 2.7 percent from the previous week and 3.3 percent from a year earlier. Year-to-date, the EIA said, total U.S. coal production is 2.8 percent lower than during the same period in 2017. Trump essentially slowed coal's decline when he took office, but the long downward slide continues.
In 2010, the U.S. had 580 coal-powered plants that provided 45 percent of U.S. energy generation, and now there are fewer than 350 coal-power plants; the EIA forecast Thursday that coal will generate 28 percent of America's energy in 2018 and 27 percent in 2019. Thirty-six coal-fired plants have been shuttered since Trump was elected, and 30 more have announced their retirement. About 53,000 people work in the U.S. coal industry, an uptick of maybe 1,000 since Trump took office, but the industry employed as many as 883,000 workers at its peak, back in 1923. Today, more people work at Arby's or bowling alleys than in coal, and solar power employs more than 260,000 Americans.
"It would be difficult for any president to reverse the long decline in coal mining," CNBC says, explaining some of the economic and environmental factors behind coal's slow slide toward niche status. You can read more about the withering coal industry in this explainer from The Week. Peter Weber
On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency released the details of President Trump's replacement for his predecessor's Clean Power Plan, and along with it, Trump's EPA also released its analysis of the effects of the new Affordable Clean Energy rule. Under the most likely scenario, the EPA found, Trump's plan will lead to up to 1,400 premature American deaths a year by 2030 due to the increase in fine particulate matter in the air, plus as many as 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems, 48,000 new cases of "exacerbated asthma," and at least 21,000 more missed school days.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta explained the health issues on CNN:
Trump's rollback of the Clean Power Plan will allow states greater leeway to keep open coal-fired energy plants, a point Trump made at a rally in West Virginia on Tuesday night. "We love clean, beautiful West Virginia coal," he said, extolling the combustible mineral's superiority to less "indestructible" alternatives like windmills, gas, and solar energy. He did not mention the health costs. EPA air chief William Wehrum, a former coal industry lawyer, did acknowledge the plan's "collateral effects" on health Tuesday but said the EPA has "abundant legal authority to deal with those other pollutants directly."
Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who finalized the Clean Power Plan, disagreed, calling Trump's alternative "just another step in industry's playbook to dismantle regulations that they find inconvenient but are absolutely essential for our public health and our kids' future." Under the same type of analysis used by Trump's EPA, the Obama-era agency found that the Clean Power Plan would prevent 1,500 to 3,600 premature deaths a year by 2030. In a New York Times video op-ed, former coal miner Nick Mullins says the health costs should bury Trump's attempts to salvage a dying coal industry. Watch below. Peter Weber
The largest private coal mining corporation in America, Murray Energy, has warned it may have to lay off as many as 4,400 employees — some 80 percent of the company's workforce — thanks to a long-term slump in the coal markets.
The Central Appalachian coal price benchmark has sunk to just $40 a ton, about half of its price in 2011, and many major coal producers are declaring bankruptcy. Murray Energy has already laid off about 3,000 workers in the past year, mostly in West Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio.
Controlling owner Robert Murray, a Donald Trump supporter, significantly blamed his company's decline on "the ongoing destruction of the United States coal industry by President Barack Obama, and his supporters," as well as "the increased utilization of natural gas to generate electricity." Bonnie Kristian
The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon rule would heavily impact states whose economies rely heavily on coal production, and Congressional Republicans are upset that the EPA chose not to hold "listening sessions" on its landmark bill in the places most likely to be affected.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), The Hill reports, pressed the EPA to find out why the agency "did not schedule any listening sessions on its landmark carbon rule for power plants in West Virginia or other places in Appalachian coal country."
Capito was told that the EPA wanted to host its national level meetings "in locations where people were comfortable coming."
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly asked the EPA to hold meetings in coal country a number of times, but the agency instead visited Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.
McConnell declared that the EPA has no interest in visiting coal country "because it makes them uncomfortable to look Kentucky coal miners and their families in the eye and tell them what they plan to do to their communities."
The EPA estimates that the bill would "take a large bite out of coal's market share for electricity generation, reducing it to 31 percent by 2030 from the current 39 percent." Teresa Mull