President Trump credited his administration yesterday for overseeing a boom in coal exports and said coal miners “are coming back strong” during a rally in Huntington, W.Va.
Trump visited the Appalachian town on the heels of announcing that a Pennsylvania company had won the rights to supply Ukraine’s state power agency with 700,000 tons of thermal coal. He had praised Appalachian coal miners throughout the 2016 campaign and since his move to the White House.
“We are putting our coal miners back to work; we’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” Trump said. “We’ve stopped the EPA intrusion. American coal exports are already up.”
Coal exports in the first quarter of 2017 hit 22.3 million short tons, up 57.6 percent from 14.2 million the year prior, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Reuters reported a 60.3 percent increase in coal exports this year, citing unpublished EIA figures shared with the news agency.
Whether Trump is responsible for those gains is less clear. Experts contend that surging demand overseas — where the U.S. coal industry has pinned its economic hopes — has contributed to the recent upturn rather than domestic policies. In the United States, cheap natural gas is pushing coal out of the electricity sector.
For all the growth in exports, jobs in the United States coal mining sector have been more stubborn. Employment rose by 1,100 between December and May, a 2.2 percent gain, to hit 50,800 in the sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While long-term trends such as increasing automation in the industry, easy-to-mine seams drying up and competition from natural gas stand in the way of a coal rebound, Trump has sought to remove restrictions on mining in several ways. His administration is working on rolling back U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, has rescinded the stream buffer rule that sought to rein in water pollution from mining, and has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement.
“To protect our workers and our coal miners, I also withdrew the United States from the job-killing Paris climate accord,” said Trump, who has previously couched his reasons for exiting Paris on the false claim that the pact’s emissions-cutting targets are binding.
Trump has also come under criticism for not protecting coal miners, as coal industry injuries are on the rise and his administration hasn’t nominated anyone to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
“Nothing he is doing is cutting back on the safety,” deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said, per a pool report. “Safety is a top priority, but our main focus is on creating and growing jobs in these communities that rely on the coaling industry as a main source of income.”
West Virginia overwhelmingly voted for Trump last year, with 67.9 percent of Mountain State voters casting their ballots in his favor. It’s part of a long transition that has seen this formerly Democratic union stronghold increasingly go Republican — a reality capped off by Gov. Jim Justice switching back to the Republican Party yesterday after winning his November election as a Republican-turned-Democrat.
The state has gone increasingly Republican in federal elections partly in response to energy policies pushed by former President Obama, who was cast as an enemy to the state’s coal mining industry. Declining union membership and decades of dwindling employment that long preceded Obama also blurred traditional animosities between miners and coal operators, who blamed Obama and Democratic climate change policies for coal’s struggles — though most analysts finger natural gas for the industry’s woes.
Yesterday’s speech came on the two-year anniversary of the Clean Power Plan being finalized, raising speculation ahead of time that Trump would make an announcement related to the Obama-era power plant regulation. The rule, which seeks to curb electricity emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, has generated a flurry of White House meetings in recent weeks and is reviled by the coal industry.
- On August 4, 2017