President Trump lifted a moratorium on federal coal leases Tuesday, paving the way for excavation of a fossil fuel on public land in the West that few mining companies seem to want.
With coal miners gathered around him, Trump signed an executive order rolling back a temporary ban on mining coal and a stream protection rule imposed by the Obama administration. The order follows the president’s campaign promise to revive the struggling coal industry and bring back thousands of lost mining jobs in rural America.
“I made them this promise,” Trump said, “we will put our miners back to work.”
But industry experts say coal mining jobs will continue to be lost, not because of blocked access to coal, but because power plant owners are turning to natural gas. At least six plants that relied on coal have closed or announced they will close since Trump’s victory in November, including the main plant at the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, the largest in the West. Another 40 are projected to close during the president’s four-year term.
The shift was mirrored by employment, with jobs in natural gas and other cleaner energy resources rising and coal jobs declining, the report said. It cited a Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis showing that coal mining and support employment declined by nearly 40 percent between March 2009 and March 2016.
In this shaky financial environment, coal companies are struggling. Two of the largest, Contura and Arch Coal, emerged from bankruptcy only recently, and another giant, Peabody Energy, recently filed a reorganization plan for its path out of bankruptcy, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
The IEEFA disagreed. “Promises to create more coal jobs will not be kept — indeed the industry will continue to cut payrolls,” the group said in its 2017 U.S. Coal Outlook. “These losses will be related in part to the coal industry’s long-term business model of producing more coal with fewer workers.”
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