Why Coal Jobs Are Not Coming Back No Matter How Much Trump Wants Them To
Trump made poignant campaign stops in traditional coal states where he blamed the Obama administration for over-regulating the coal industry into massive losses of jobs in the coal industry. His strategy seemed to have worked, but he will be largely unable to come through with his promises of a return to the “glory days” of coal. Obama era regulations included:
- A moratorium on coal leasing of federal land
- The Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions and invest in infrastructure and research to combat climate change
- The Clean Water Rule that give the government authority to protect wetlands, ponds, lakes, and other small bodies of water from pollution
- The Paris Agreement Clean Power Plan (CPP) that would cut US coal production by 26% through 2040, while finally succeeding in bringing rapidly emerging (and polluting) industrial nations China and India to commit to their share of carbon emissions and coal production
Did these measures have a negative impact on the coal industry? Maybe a little bit, but it is largely energy market factors that have pounded coal rather than regulatory ones. The two biggest factors in the shrinking coal industry are natural gas and and the rise of solar power. While solar energy has made inroads as a serious alternative to coal fired based power, natural gas has played by far the greatest role in reducing the impact of coal. Natural gas is much cleaner, but more importantly, there is a lot of it in the US, and it is cheaper to extract.
Solar has never been more affordable and as investment in this renewable resource continues to grow, it will only get cheaper. As it stands right now, an average home owner can have solar panels installed for $45,000 with a $15,000 tax credit incentive from the government and warranty guarantees of 20-25 years. Many owners of solar panels not only have their power needs covered, but often find themselves able to sell their excess power back to utility companies. As word about this continues to spread and solar becomes increasingly an affordable investment with a faster return on investment, a polluting and expensive resource like coal will continue to lose its influence.
Since 2008, there have been a wave of coal fired power plant closures as the result of cleaner and cheaper energy market alternatives and that trend continues. Thus, even if Trump succeeded in removal all Obama era regulations (a task that may prove more difficult than advertised by the Trump campaign), there will be too few coal power plants left make extracting more coal worth it. Those plants simply are not coming back no matter how much regulation is lifted and without a demand, there will be no new jobs.
For this reason, energy expert at West Virginia University, Von Nostrand of West Virginia University said Trump’s efforts should be less focused on reviving an imminently dying coal industry and more focused on helping struggling coal miners by protecting their pensions and health benefits (which his proposed budget actually would accomplish a polar opposite effect).