Speed Reads

War on Coal

Trump is losing his war on the war on coal

The Trump administration has reacted to reports that the Earth is going to heat up to life-threatening levels very quickly not by disagreeing with that conclusion, necessarily, but rather embracing fossil fuels because we're doomed anyway. And there is one fossil fuel that President Trump likes above all, the dirtiest one. "We are back," Trump told a crowd in West Virginia in late August, unveiling his new plan to shore up ailing coal-fired power plants. "The coal industry is back."

It doesn't seem to be, though, despite Trump's earnest efforts. On Thursday, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reported that estimated U.S. coal production dropped 2.7 percent from the previous week and 3.3 percent from a year earlier. Year-to-date, the EIA said, total U.S. coal production is 2.8 percent lower than during the same period in 2017. Trump essentially slowed coal's decline when he took office, but the long downward slide continues.

In 2010, the U.S. had 580 coal-powered plants that provided 45 percent of U.S. energy generation, and now there are fewer than 350 coal-power plants; the EIA forecast Thursday that coal will generate 28 percent of America's energy in 2018 and 27 percent in 2019. Thirty-six coal-fired plants have been shuttered since Trump was elected, and 30 more have announced their retirement. About 53,000 people work in the U.S. coal industry, an uptick of maybe 1,000 since Trump took office, but the industry employed as many as 883,000 workers at its peak, back in 1923. Today, more people work at Arby's or bowling alleys than in coal, and solar power employs more than 260,000 Americans.

"It would be difficult for any president to reverse the long decline in coal mining," CNBC says, explaining some of the economic and environmental factors behind coal's slow slide toward niche status. You can read more about the withering coal industry in this explainer from The Week.