By Kieran Cooke / Climate News Network

Trump delivering a speech during a campaign rally in West Virginia on May 5, 2016. (Screen shot via CSPAN)

One of Donald Trump’s key election pledges was to revitalize the US coal industry, reopening facilities and putting thousands of miners back to work. Now President, though, in reality Trump is digging himself into a deep hole over coal.

“For those miners, get ready because you’re going to be working your asses off,” Trump said at a pre-election rally a year ago.

Now a key Trump adviser is openly contradicting the president, saying using coal makes little economic or environmental sense.

Coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels; the mining and burning of coal creates at least 25% of the world’s climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

Gary Cohn, director of the influential White House National Economic Council, says that due to the surge in fracking in recent years, the US now has abundant supplies of natural gas. The country had also made big advances in renewables, Cohn told reporters.

Green powerhouse

“Coal doesn’t even make that much sense any more as a feedstock,” he said.

“If you think about how much solar and how much wind power we’ve created in the US, we can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly.”

Cohn’s remarks were particularly significant, made as Trump was involved in what were reported to be heated arguments on climate change at a meeting in Europe with several other world leaders.

In the past Trump has dismissed climate change as a hoax and has indicated the US would be likely to withdraw from its commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement on limiting global warming.

The US coal industry, once one of the biggest employers in the country, has shrunk dramatically over recent years as power companies have switched to less polluting and often cheaper energy sources, particularly natural gas. Coal exports have also been hit by falling world demand.

In recent months Trump, as part of efforts to revive the industry, has sought to undo various environmental regulations governing the sector.

A recent study of the coal industry by the Centre on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University in the US points out that the country’s coal consumption fell 20% between 2011 and 2015, with three out of four of its biggest coal companies filing for bankruptcy over the past two years.

“These findings indicate that President’s Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will not materially improve economic conditions in America’s coal communities,” says the study.

“…Responsible policymakers should be honest about what’s going on in the US coal sector – including the causes of coal’s decline and the unlikeliness of its resurgence – rather than offer false hope that the glory days can be revived,” says the Columbia report.

Other studies and organizations point to a general move away from coal, not just in the US but worldwide, spurred by concern about climate change and growing worries about the impact on health of air pollution resulting from the burning of coal.

Driving transition

E3G, a London-based think tank specialising in climate change, says both environmental and economic factors are driving a transition to cleaner energy sources.

“Coal plants continue to retire in the US because they simply don’t make economic sense any more,” it says.

“They also happen to be bad for the health of Americans and bad for the climate.”

A report by InfluenceMap, a UK-based organization which charts how corporations lobby on climate change and influence energy policy, says hundreds of billions of dollars of investments have been withdrawn from coal in recent years.

“It is clear from the data that thermal coal has become largely uninvestable over the last five years for mainstream asset managers and owners alike,” InfluenceMap says.


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