Coal Tattoo

Can Trump save coal and support natural gas?



The view that electing Donald Trump as president will save West Virginia’s coal industry and return us to mining’s glory days was on display again in today’s Gazette-Mail, in a piece by David Gutman about Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s support for Trump. Here’s the bottom line:

“I am looking at our state, my state, that’s the principal-view lens at which I’m viewing this election,” Capito said in an interview at Charleston’s historic Craik-Patton House on Monday. “I mean, I’ve lived in this state my entire life. I’m 62 years old. I’ve never seen such pessimism, lack of vision for a future, really concern about where is that next generation going to go.”

“I’m laying a lot of this at the doorstep — not totally, but a lot of this at the doorstep — of the policies of the last eight years,” Capito said. “I can’t, I cannot stomach that. For where I live, it’s not a good future.”

In many ways, West Virginia weathered the financial crisis and ensuing recession better than most states in the last years of the George W. Bush administration and the first years of Obama’s presidency. More recently, though, West Virginia’s economy has been in a tailspin as the population shrinks and ages, fossil fuel prices plummet and a combination of cheap natural gas, depleted seams and federal regulation decimate the coal industry.

But a couple recent pieces by writer Tina Casey at have raised some interesting questions about all of this.

First, there was a piece headlined, “The Donald Trump Coal Plan Vs. The Donald Trump Fracking Plan,” which started out like this:

Industry analysts widely agree that coal consumption in the US has been declining in recent years, primarily because of competition from low cost natural gas for electricity generation. Renewable sources have been a far less significant factor, and they are only just beginning to weigh in more.

Low cost gas is a side effect of the domestic shale fracking boom, which was touched off by a loophole in environmental regulations created under the Bush Administration.

So, blame President Bush for the decline in domestic coal consumption. The loophole has crippled the Obama Administration’s efforts to bring the fracking industry under the regulatory umbrella of the EPA, and this lack of oversight has helped to keep gas costs down.

The piece continued:

Longstanding federal restrictions on exporting natural gas have also played a role in the domestic gas glut, though the Obama Administration has made some cautious steps toward enabling more exports.

Coal supporters like Capito have been especially fond of nailing President Obama’s energy policies for the decline of coal in West Virginia and other states in the Appalachia region, but the fact is that Appalachian coal faces a triple whammy. In addition to new competition from natural gas for the domestic market, it also has to compete with coal from Wyoming’s Powder River basin, and compete globally with Australia and other coal-exporting countries.

It concluded:

In fact, the advent of labor-saving practices in the coal mining industry has been a root cause of coal job destruction in Appalachia for generations, with mountaintop removal being the latest iteration.

Perhaps as President, Donald Trump will have his Energy Secretary restore coal jobs by requiring the coal industry to return to pick-and-shovel days, though our money is on Secretary Hamm to play up natural gas at the expense of coal. Stay tuned.

And then this week, there was another piece, this one headlined, “It’s Official: Donald Trump Throws Coal Under the Bus“:

The Republican National Convention paid a lot of lip service to US coal in general, and the coal state of West Virginia in particular, but it seems that words are all the industry can expect from a Donald Trump administration. The Republican candidate for President already has oil-and-gas fan Kevin Cramer (R – North Dakota) on his energy advisory team, and last week he was rumored to be eyeballing fracking mogul Harold Hamm for Energy Secretary.

Cramer dug the knife in a little deeper in an interview last week. He dropped more than a few hints last week that a Trump administration will give free rein to the natural gas marketplace, and leave coal twisting in the wind.

It continued:

Regardless of the coal love fest at RNC 2016, the Hamm rumor should put the industry on notice that it’s going to have to shout louder if it wants to get heard.

Hamm isn’t fully on board yet — after all, that’s just a rumor — but Cramer is on board, and his fracking-friendly interview last week in Midwestern Energy News pounded twenty different nails into the coal coffin.

Cramer began by linking oil and gas development to national security and job creation, while neglecting to mention coal.

That one error of omission would be inconsequential except that he made another one right after that. When the conversation turned to tax breaks, he mentioned a drilling cost deduction without touching on a similar carve-out for coal.


It all went downhill once the interview began to dig a little deeper into favoritism in federal energy policy. Republican stakeholders routinely accuse the Obama Administration of picking “energy winners and losers” with policies favorable to wind and solar. Cramer, though, seems to think that the framework applies equally to competition between coal and the oil-and-gas sector:

…So coal versus natural gas is a natural market force. I don’t think it would be appropriate to save coal at the expense of the consumer. If natural gas as a competing fuel is more economically feasible, then that’s to the benefit of the market.

Finally, in the end, the piece said:

Although Cramer has a reputation as a climate change denier, he also seems to accept the fact that carbon regulation is inevitable. In that context, he foresees that coal will simply not be able to compete with natural gas in the open market:

…if gas [plays a growing role] — whether you consider it a clean fuel or a transition fuel or whatever the case might be — that’s just all the more reason not to have to drive coal out of business with regulation. But if the market does that, so be it.

Coal, meet bus.