President Trump has promised to restart shuttered coal mines and bring coal back as an important fuel for power plants, a move that has been met with skepticism and disbelief by energy experts who point to the favorable economics of natural gas, now at prices close to the lowest in recent history. Even those utility CEO’s who are pleased that the EPA’s edict to shut down highly polluting coal-burning power plants will probably now be rescinded will choose to burn natural gas for economic reasons. And readers of this blog know that only massive government subsidies can convert existing plants to “Clean Coal” technology involving the installation of coal gasifiers, a competely new plant “flowsheet” and a nearby depleted oil field that can use the captured CO2 for tertiary crude oil recovery.
President Trump is absolutely right in wanting to help laid-off coal miners, most of whom represent the core of his supporters. The plight of these miners is particularly well shown in the above graphic taken from a recent article in Equal Voice. Harlan County, Kentucky is the most distressed country in Appalachia in terms of loss of coal mining jobs (10,000 since 2008), though it is not possible to know what percentage is due to new regulations versus substitution of natural gas for coal, the greater use of machinery and the availability of cheaper coal from Western U.S. sources. Regardless of the cause, these out-of-work miners need to get back to work somehow and Trump will have a difficult time to accomplish that by touting a new program for coal and coal-based power plants. The economics are totally against that. Therefore, other types of work must be found.
The last Obama budget included a $50MM grant for economic development projects in Appalachia sponsored by local governments, schools and nonprofit organizations. A program (RECLAIM ACT H.R. 4456) would accelerate the use of moneys from the Abandoned Mine Fund by $ 1 Billion to promote diversification and development in economically distressed areas adversely affected by coal mining. Historically, it has been difficult to retrain miners and other affected workers for actual, available jobs, but the need is great and Trump should get his administration to help a group of people who voted for him primarily to make Appalachia great again. Funding of many areas of government not associated with Immigration or Defence is being dramatically reduced in the new budget. It is fair to wonder whether help for Appalachia is considered a Trump priority. We’ll add this item to our “Trump watch”.