During his 2016 campaign and throughout his first two years in office, President Donald Trump has promised America’s coal workers he would end the “war on coal” allegedly propagated by his predecessor.
But more coal-burning plants have closed since Trump took office than in President Barack Obama’s entire first term, according to ThinkProgress.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that while 15 gigawatts of coal-fired plants were shut down in Obama’s first four years, Trump’s first two years have seen some 20 gigawatts retired (with more than two thirds of those occurring last year).
As a result, U.S. coal use dropped 4 percent in 2018 to a level not seen since 1979, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
In fact, the EIA now projects that the decline in coal consumption will speed up in 2019 — with power sector coal use forecast to drop a whopping 8 percent this year.
Trump’s inability to end the war on coal boils down to the fact that there was never such a war in the first place.
As ThinkProgress notes, the coal industry’s problems are not political — they are economical.
Coal power plants have simply become too expensive to operate compared to natural gas and renewable energy. Indeed, building and running new wind and solar farms is now cheaper than just running existing coal plants in many places.
And this is not the industry’s only problem:
While the administration is run by climate science deniers, including the president himself, the utility industry is increasingly reality-based.
“It seems that the utilities have embraced a carbonless future and proposed drastic emissions reductions,” coal industry expert Matt Preston told E&E News recently. Preston, who works for leading analytical firm Wood MacKenzie added, “That is a huge turnaround in thinking.”
ThinkProgress reported that last month Xcel Energy became “the first major U.S. utility committed to delivering 100 percent carbon-free power by 2050”, and pledged to reduce carbon pollution 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
As Xcel’s chief executive, Ben Fowke, told reporters at the time, “This risk of climate change isn’t going away and we want to be the company that does something about it and hopefully inspire others to do something about it too.”
In terms of coal mining jobs, Trump’s promise to put miners back to work has seen only minimal success: when he took office, the U.S. had 51,000 coal mining jobs; in November 2018, that had risen to just 53,000.
To help, some companies, such as EnerBlu in Kentucky, are starting to train former coal workers to work in the renewable technology industry.
The bottom line is that U.S. coal power’s steady decline isn’t slowing down under Trump and, if anything, is speeding up.