Announcing its plans to eliminate rules reducing carbon pollution from power plants, the Trump Administration framed the repeal as necessary to prevent the demise of the coal industry and its miners. Predictably, environmentalists refuted this rationale, but they aren’t alone. Robert Murray, CEO of coal giant Murray Energy Corporation, is on record saying Trump “can’t bring [coal jobs] back.”
Coal executives recognize market forces, not public health and environmental protection laws, are driving coal to the margins. Ignoring that reality only deepens the harm to working people in coal country.
Far from the “War on Coal” alleged by Trump appointees, a government war supporting coal has been waged for many years, including subsidies that add up to about one billion dollars annually. Below-market fees charged for extracting coal from publicly-owned land in Montana and Wyoming by themselves constitute a gift to coal corporations comparable to all federal support for renewable energy.
Even so, coal produced only about 15% of all energy in the U.S. last year and the coal industry has faced declining market share and a string of bankruptcies and loss of market share over the past decade. Low prices for natural gas, reductions in demand from abroad, and technological improvements are eroding coal’s market. Researchers from Columbia University found public health and environmental protections instituted under President Obama account for just three to five…