Energy & Environment

Trump isn’t saving the coal industry. He’s letting it compete.

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President Trump this week signed the American Energy Independence Executive Order, an action being used by allies and critics alike to rally their bases, particularly when it comes to the re-examination of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

But while one side predicts environmental Armageddon, and the other cheers for an industry’s resurgence, there are significant truths that are being overlooked by each extreme.

{mosads}In considering the president’s regulatory reset, context is key. The Trump administration follows a frenzied regulatory attack on the economy that is without precedent.


The Obama administration circumvented Congress and ignored voters’ demand for good jobs in order to practice what might be called public relations by regulation — a record number of cleverly-named regulations proclaiming “stream protection” and “clean power” that were designed to please activists and seduce the public but that rarely accomplished their stated purpose.

The Clean Power Plan is the perfect example. Widely touted as the pinnacle of former President Obama’s climate action plan, in fact the CPP offered negligible climate benefits.

Under the plan, global temperatures would have been reduced by just 0.018 degrees Celcius, with atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reduced by less than 1 percent and the rise in sea levels reduced by 0.3 millimeters by 2050.  

In fact, as she departed late last year, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admitted the CPP’s importance was mostly symbolic. It was effective at burnishing the administration’s environmental legacy, but it added little to its real environmental accomplishments.

Unfortunately, what was all too real was the significant damage the CPP would have caused everyday Americans, through rising electricity costs, and the coal industry, through lost jobs. Under the CPP, the typical annual household electricity bills in 2020 would be more than one-third higher than they were in 2012, with 45 states facing double-digit increases in the cost of wholesale electricity.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the CPP would have taken another 25 percent of coal generation capacity off the grid, causing direct and indirect job losses totaling 127,000.

How could the EPA have justified such significant costs for negligible benefits? Looking at a court case from last year, it probably didn’t even consider them. Last year a federal court found that EPA was required under the Clean Air Act to study how its rules affect employment in the coal sector. The EPA responded that it would take two years just to review job impacts. Such a bother!

Another truth that is lost can be found among the media headlines that insist “Trump Can’t Save Coal.” No one has asked our president to save coal. Our industry has simply asked the government to get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the energy market.

With the American Energy Independence Executive Order, President Trump is doing just that. Now, for the first time in eight years, we can compete in the marketplace with natural gas and subsidized renewable fuels without simultaneously having to fight our own government.

The EPA can now re-examine a rule that stepped on states’ authority by putting an environmental agency in charge of transforming the nation’s energy grid. Working with stakeholders across the country, the EPA can better understand the impacts of its policies and develop a new path forward that cares for America’s people and environment at the same time — not one to the exclusion of the other.

Much to the dismay of headline writers everywhere, Trump’s executive order spells neither environmental doom nor industry salvation. It is a return to common-sense energy policy and a realistic appreciation of regulatory costs that has been lacking for almost a decade. That is something to celebrate. 


Luke Popovich is the vice president of communications at the National Mining Association, the only national trade organization that represents the interests of mining before Congress, the administration, federal agencies, the judiciary and the media.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags Clean Air Act Clean Power Plan Coal Donald Trump Environmental policy under the Trump administration Gina McCarthy Presidency of Barack Obama United States Environmental Protection Agency
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