Earlier this month, President Donald Trump proclaimed, “My administration is putting an end to the war on coal.” This effort involved signing executive orders re-opening federal lands for new leases to coal miners and rolling back the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
Trump’s actions follow a proposed budget that drastically cuts funding for research on emerging energy technologies, including the elimination of ARPA-E, a popular Dept of Energy program that provides seed capital for early-stage innovations. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), an outspoken proponent for the program, estimates that ARPA-E generates $5 of private-sector investment for every dollar spent.
Other executive orders have rolled back restrictions on dumping coal waste into streams and instructed government officials to take a “hands-off” approach to regulating mining practices.
The administration has yet to pull the US out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, but references to climate change have been edited out of many government communications. Embedded political operatives are also empowered to ensure career employees don’t obstruct these new objectives.
In short, US government policy on coal has made a 180-degree turn. And these actions almost surely won’t be the last, as the Trump administration attempts to boost mining activity and avert the shutdown of coal-fired power plants.
Despite all this bluster and activity, these moves will do little to bolster coal’s fortunes.
For one, drumming a Congressional majority to support coal at the expense of clean air and water would be a challenge
Ironically, Trump’s statements and executive actions have motivated many large US states and foreign governments—China and Alberta in Canada spring to mind—to accelerate their plans to limit carbon emissions.
The biggest barriers to reviving coal are economic, not regulatory.