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Can Trump make coal great again?

03 Apr 2017

America’s 45th President, Donald J Trump has promised to make coal king again; pledging to boost energy jobs and reverse decades of decline across the coal sector. 

Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump made coal the centrepiece of his crusade, holding rallies across Southern America with adoring supporters, promising to fight to “get those miners back to work”. His strategy paid off and clearly helped him win 95 per cent of Appalachian counties, and 69 per cent of West Virginia voters. 

Coal has experienced a challenging decade. For small American towns where coal was most prominent and a substantial economic driving force, Obama’s presidency had a real impact. Approximately 83,000 coal jobs were lost and hundreds of coalmines closed over this period, with many environmental regulations forcing countless older, smaller coal plants to shut down. 

Over the years, America has become programmed to wholly consume this anti-coal rhetoric and as a consequence has lost sight of the importance of coal, and the role in in which is plays in supplying over 40 per cent of the nation’s electricity needs. 

Number of coal mining employees in the U.S


Source: Statista 

 

Trumping the Environment 

If Trump is going to be successful in his attempt to boost coal, he will have to dismantle Obama’s climate change regulations. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) restricts greenhouse gas pollution from electricity plants, and many republicans were against it; claiming it poses a “war on coal”. So far, the President has already signed a bill rejecting the EPA’s “clean steam rule”, an action that has provided a much need spark across the industry, according to officials. 

However, strict environmental regulations are not the only factor that has caused coal’s steady decline. Increased production costs and heavy renewable energy competition still pose a real threat, and many leaders across the sector are now questioning whether it is possible for coal to complete with the likes of solar and wind power. 

 

 

The Coal Wall

According to industry watchers, Trump’s plan to use American-made steel in his $1 trillion infrastructure plan will boost coal-mining activity by 5 per cent. Renewable energy will continue to play a significant part in providing energy for future America, however, it is likely that the influx of new construction projects will raise the demand for coal. Officials have also claimed that metallurgical coal will be required to make steel in India and China, and will play a key role in assisting the growing of its infrastructure industries. 

 

America digs coal

Regardless of what these analysts think, the industry has regained a pulse. Recently, Corsa Coal Corp opened several coal mines.

“We’re staffing up,” said Corsa Chief Executive Officer George Dethlefsen. “We’re going to hire 100 people, and we’ve gotten hundreds of applications.” 

Companies such as Warrior Met Coal have re-opened Mine No. 4 in Alabama and Ramaco LLC, is currently trying to obtain a permit to begin mining in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Moreover, AK Coal Resources has received mining permits in Pennsylvania, and is likely to increase production there in the near future. Yet, will the opening of more mines translate into more jobs? Luke Caldera, Principle Consultant at Spencer Ogden, is confident in the industry’s ability to regain control. 

“A resurgence in coal is now likely and there is certainly a newfound hope for all workers employed across the industry. If Trump’s plan is successful, it will become a win-win for everyone as job creation will be an industry-wide benefit.”

American coal companies will need to remain focused on re-structuring their organisations if they want to survive. In order to retain a workforce that can fulfil the potential demand of the industry, it will have to inspire a new generation of workers. According to reports, in 2015 close to 80 per cent of energy retirees worked in coal power stations. Based on these statistics alone, the industry will need to effectively position itself as a field with job security and financial stability if it wants to target a younger candidate pool. 

 

Share of electricity generation from coal in 2014


Source: Statista

 

Alternative plans 

Trump has the power to create positive change, however, if he cannot defy the odds, he will need to formulate a plan b if he is going to win back jobs. During the U.S presidential race, democrat representative, Hillary Clinton, vowed to invest $30 billion to retrain workers in coal-producing regions so they could obtain work in other fields. If Trump’s strategy cannot revive the coal industry, an alternative plan such as this will be needed. It would be in America’s best interests to adopt a programme that would encourage workers from effected regions to gain multi-faceted training to find jobs in other sectors. 

It is still too early to judge whether coal will rise from the ashes again. Although, with the reduction of regulations, an interconnected booming built environment sector, and government funded training support, a comeback is highly likely.

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