During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to end "the war on coal" and scale back Obama-era regulations that hampered the coal industry, even as the market for coal hits 40 year lows while wind and solar energy set records for growth. Still, many current and former miners are optimistic about coal's future — and that hope may be hampering the economy. As Mike Sylvester, the 33-year-old son of a coal miner, told Reuters: "I think there is a coal comeback."
Last month, the Trump administration announced a proposal that would prop up the coal industry by requiring utility companies to buy electricity from coal and nuclear plants at prices that would guarantee a profit, even if the utility companies had cheaper alternatives on the table. Although 2017 has seen minor increases in coal output and hiring, utility companies have announced the closure of more than 14 coal-fired power plants since Trump's inauguration.
Efforts to diversify the economy in coal country and prepare workers for life after coal have stalled, however, as miners have been reluctant to join job retraining programs. Some workers cite Trump's support for the coal industry as cause for optimism, though others are hesitant because many training programs are unpaid and do not guarantee jobs upon completion. Others still are simply wary of entering an unfamiliar industry.
As a result, while many officials in coal country want big companies like Toyota and Amazon to build factories in their respective regions to provide new coal-independent jobs, the companies are deterred by a perceived lack of an adequately trained workforce. Dave Serock, an ex-miner in Pennsylvania who recruits for one of the state's retraining services, told Reuters, "I can't even get [people] to show up for free food I set up in the office."
As of September, the coal industry only employed 52,000 Americans. Read more about the trouble in coal country at Reuters.