Embattled Coal Boosters Look for Help From Trump

Rolling back regulations won’t save the industry, so supporters are looking for a leg up.

AP Photo/Matthew Brown
Jason Plautz
Add to Briefcase
Jason Plautz
Nov. 16, 2016, 8 p.m.

It didn’t take long for real­ity to de­flate one of Don­ald Trump’s big cam­paign prom­ises.

After Trump ran through coal coun­try with a pledge to bring back min­ing jobs by rolling back reg­u­la­tions (“I’m go­ing to be an un­be­liev­able pos­it­ive,” he said at a Vir­gin­ia rally), no less an au­thor­ity than Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell said it wouldn’t be that easy.

Speak­ing last week at the Uni­versity of Louis­ville, the sen­at­or from Ken­tucky said that Re­pub­lic­ans would give Trump op­tions to end the “as­sault” of reg­u­la­tions, but “wheth­er that im­me­di­ately brings busi­ness back is hard to tell be­cause it’s a private-sec­tor activ­ity,” ac­cord­ing to the Lex­ing­ton Her­ald-Lead­er.

Al­though the “war on coal” has been a handy polit­ic­al catch­phrase, plum­met­ing nat­ur­al-gas prices are a much big­ger factor in the in­dustry’s down­turn. Coal pro­duc­tion fell by 10 per­cent in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the En­ergy In­form­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the agency has pre­dicted that nat­ur­al-gas-fired gen­er­a­tion could sur­pass coal this year in the U.S. Coal plants are re­tir­ing across the coun­try (41 will close this year, ac­cord­ing to EIA), and tens of thou­sands of min­ing jobs have been lost over the last dec­ade.

Luke Pop­ovich, a spokes­man for the Na­tion­al Min­ing As­so­ci­ation, said the in­dustry is simply ask­ing that the new White House lift reg­u­la­tions like the Clean Power Plan, rules to keep coal waste from en­ter­ing streams, and the morator­i­um on coal leas­ing on fed­er­al land. Trump could also re­duce fed­er­al tax and roy­alty rates on coal min­ing.

“Let us com­pete on the mar­ket­place with cheap gas and take the gov­ern­ment out of the ring,” Pop­ovich said. “That’s all we have a right to ex­pect.”

But James Van Nos­trand, dir­ect­or of the Cen­ter for En­ergy and Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment at West Vir­gin­ia Uni­versity, said that util­it­ies’ shift away from coal was un­likely to stop.

“It’s all about the num­bers. The Clean Power Plan doesn’t have much to do with this,” Van Nos­trand said. “I don’t know what you could do to in­centiv­ize new coal power plants.”

That’s got some in­dustry back­ers look­ing past just “lev­el­ing the play­ing field” to see what else the gov­ern­ment could do to help.

Laura Men­gelkamp, a spokes­man for in­com­ing Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee Chair­man John Bar­rasso, said the Wyom­ing Re­pub­lic­an will work with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to quickly ap­prove con­struc­tion of new ex­port ter­min­als, which would help pro­du­cers ex­port coal to mar­kets in Asia.

The prob­lem, though, is that the Asi­an mar­ket just may not ex­ist. China and In­dia have both com­mit­ted to cap­ping their emis­sions as part of United Na­tions cli­mate deals, and China earli­er this year can­celed con­struc­tion of new coal-fired plants total­ing 105 gigawatts of power. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from Coalswarm, a group af­fil­i­ated with en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, 150 gigawatts of po­ten­tial coal gen­er­a­tion world­wide was can­celed in the first half of this year alone.

Even get­ting the ex­port ter­min­als built in lib­er­al-lean­ing states like Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon is an up­hill battle.

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana said the gov­ern­ment could give the in­dustry a boost by in­vest­ing in so-called clean-coal tech­no­logy, with strategies like car­bon cap­ture and se­quest­ra­tion that would re­duce the en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact of coal plants.

“From an en­vir­on­ment­al view­point, the world will be bet­ter if the U.S. is lead­ing on clean-coal tech­no­logy, not to men­tion the af­ford­able, re­li­able en­ergy we get from coal,” Daines said.

CCS tech­no­logy has been slow to get off the ground, al­though the in­dustry is bullish on it as a way to keep burn­ing fossil fuels without dam­aging the en­vir­on­ment. Ex­tend­ing a tax cred­it for CCS re­search—an idea that’s at­trac­ted bi­par­tis­an sup­port on the Hill—could of­fer a source of new jobs in coal coun­try.

“Let us make a liv­ing and do what this coun­try needs, and we’ll do it in a safe and very en­vir­on­ment­ally [friendly] way,” said Demo­crat­ic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia. “But don’t tell me ‘I can’t,’ and don’t just beat me up and throw my fam­ily out. We’re tired of that.”

The fact re­mains that oth­er sources of en­ergy have simply be­come more af­ford­able and abund­ant. An ana­lys­is re­leased Wed­nes­day by the In­ter­na­tion­al En­ergy Agency pre­dicts that by 2040, nearly 60 per­cent of new power gen­er­a­tion comes from re­new­ables. Nat­ur­al gas also con­tin­ues to grow, while coal con­sump­tion barely grows be­cause of re­duced de­mand in China (the ana­lys­is is based on com­mit­ments to the Par­is agree­ment, which could change if the U.S. with­draws).

Some of the growth in re­new­ables has been helped by tax sub­sidies, es­pe­cially the pro­duc­tion and in­vest­ment tax cred­its for wind and sol­ar that got ex­ten­ded for five years in last year’s budget deal. Cut­ting those cred­its—a pos­sib­il­ity un­der a Re­pub­lic­an Con­gress—could halve the growth in the U.S. sol­ar mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to an ana­lys­is by Greentech Me­dia.

Van Nos­trand said that cut­ting fed­er­al cred­its may not do much to boost coal over re­new­ables, since oth­er sub­sidies are “baked in­to” state and fed­er­al tax codes.

“If Trump really wanted to help the coal in­dustry, he’d go ahead on reg­u­la­tions of the nat­ur­al-gas in­dustry to take away some of that price ad­vant­age,” he said, adding that in­creas­ing nat­ur­al-gas ex­ports could help bump up the price. “I guess you’d do all you can to make nat­ur­al-gas prices go up, and do the same with re­new­ables. But it seems like full steam ahead on gas.”

Mary Anne Hitt, who leads the Si­erra Club’s Bey­ond Coal cam­paign, said that the in­dustry might be “buoyed” in the early years of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, but saw more forces work­ing against coal.

“Hav­ing stand­ards rolled back would be dis­ap­point­ing, and it’s a set­back,” Hitt said. “But de­cisions on elec­tri­city are made primar­ily at the state and loc­al level, not in Wash­ing­ton. We’re well on our way to meet­ing our goals, and states are go­ing to keep march­ing on to clean en­ergy.”

What We're Following See More »
EXPECTED TO BE READY BY LATE SUMMER
DHS to Start Building Prototypes of Border Wall
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Prototypes of what new sections of a wall on the Mexican border might look like should be completed by late summer, a Department of Homeland Security official said Tuesday. Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said up to eight prototypes will be up by September so that DHS can decide which design is best for building hundreds of miles of new barrier along the border, as called for by President Trump."

Source:
ON FOREIGN FLIGHTS BOUND FOR U.S.
DHS Beef Up Airline Security
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS
AS A CONTRIBUTOR
Chaffetz Joining Fox News
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who will resign from Congress on Friday, will contribute to Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Channel starting July 1.

FOR BASTILLE DAY
Trump Will Visit France
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
TWO YEARS OF WORK FOR UKRAINE
Manafort Formally Registers as Foreign Agent
11 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A consulting firm led by Paul Manafort, who chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign for several months last year, retroactively filed forms Tuesday showing that his firm received $17.1 million over two years from a political party that dominated Ukraine before its leader fled to Russia in 2014."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login