Could a President Trump save coal and West Virginia?
Last week, Donald Trump and the Republican Convention appeared to embrace West Virginians. Great seats (you can't put a price tag on that), a prime-time speech for Senator Capito (which none of the networks carried), and a plank in the party platform committing the Party to the development of clean coal. Most importantly, the Party's nominee, Donald Trump, has promised to bring back the coal jobs lost because of President Obama and his EPA.
But can Trump, as he has promised, return the state to the good old days? Last week, Fortune magazine, which is certainly not a tree-hugging, "radical environmentalist" magazine addressed this question in an article titled "Why Donald Trump Won't Bring Coal Jobs Back to West Virginia." The article's first paragraph clearly summarizes what will follow:
Donald Trump’s promise to bring coal mining jobs back to West Virginia is pure fantasy. Even if environmental protections are eased under a Trump presidency, demand for coal, especially West Virginian coal, will continue to decline due purely to market forces. If Trump wants to help West Virginia, he should support efforts to diversify its economy into something more sustainable, like tourism or healthcare.
The article discusses a number of the changes that have occurred in recent decades that have made West Virginia coal uncompetitive. Foremost, in the eyes of Fortune, is western coal:
But the biggest enemy of West Virginian coal isn’t technology, regulation, or even natural gas; it’s coal itself, and in particular coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. There, extraction costs can be as much as half what it is in West Virginia and they have tons of the stuff. If the U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal, the Powder River Basin would be its Ghawar supergiant oilfield. It can produce coal for decades, far cheaper than anywhere in West Virginia.
(As I have noted on a number of occasions, our local "newspapers" never mention, let alone blame, western coal for WV's decline in coal production. I believe that's because it doesn't matter where its located -- coal ownership still makes money regardless of whether it's mined in West Virginia or Wyoming.)
But what if Trump were to undo Obama's Clean Power Plan?
If a President Trump were to cancel the CPP, the EIA projects that coal production in all of Appalachia would increase by a measly 29 million tons a year by 2040. That would probably increase West Virginian coal production by 10 to 15 million tons a year, which isn’t enough to spark a jobs renaissance in the state.
This is an excellent article from a well-respected business publication. I'd encourage you to read it.
Would a President Trump try to save West Virginia coal?
Donald Trump has told us that he going to bring back coal mining and my hunch is that a significant percentage of West Virginia's voters believe him. Maybe it's a testimony to how desperate we have become that we are willing to put our faith in a candidate who often appears to be making it up as he speaks and who has changed his mind on numerous occasions. (For example, see here for his flip-flop on climate change.)
Would a President Trump try to make good on his promise to West Virginia's miners? Tina Casey at Clean Technica doesn't think so. Earlier this week, she wrote:
The Republican National Convention paid a lot of lip service to US coal in general, and the coal state of West Virginia in particular, but it seems that words are all the industry can expect from a Donald Trump administration. The Republican candidate for President already has oil-and-gas fan Kevin Cramer (R – North Dakota) on his energy advisory team, and last week he was rumored to be eyeballing fracking mogul Harold Hamm for Energy Secretary.
(Note -- the "Hamm for Energy Secretary" rumor is all over the Web.)
Cramer dug the knife in a little deeper in an interview last week. He dropped more than a few hints last week that a Trump administration will give free rein to the natural gas marketplace, and leave coal twisting in the wind.
Casey continues her analysis:
Regardless of the coal love fest at RNC 2016, the Hamm rumor should put the industry on notice that it’s going to have to shout louder if it wants to get heard.
Hamm isn’t fully on board yet — after all, that’s just a rumor — but Cramer is on board, and his fracking-friendly interview last week in Midwestern Energy News pounded twenty different nails into the coal coffin.
Cramer began by linking oil and gas development to national security and job creation, while neglecting to mention coal.
That one error of omission would be inconsequential except that he made another one right after that. When the conversation turned to tax breaks, he mentioned a drilling cost deduction without touching on a similar carve-out for coal.
At a certain point, West Virginians need to quit supporting politicians that promise to magically return us to the 1950s -- it ain't gonna happen. We need to somehow come to grips with reality, join the 21st century, and elect politicians who want to go there with us.