Coal isn’t coming back, although, with real investment in carbon capture and sequestration, it could continue to contribute to a clean energy economy. In 2006, coal accounted for nearly half of all electricity in the US; by 2016, it was down to 29%. The decrease in coal jobs and use by the electricity sector is because of economic reasons, as it has been outcompeted by low-cost natural gas. Building new wind and utility-scale solar generation is less expensive than building new coal plants, even without subsidies.
States are already decarbonizing. The Clean Power Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants that was the target of President Trump’s executive action, was not scheduled to phase in until 2022 nor take full effect until 2030. Market forces, such as natural gas prices, are already reducing carbon emissions. Additionally, federal tax credits and state-level policies, such as renewable portfolio standards, create market-oriented incentives to purchase wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable generation in certain states. Those factors, combined with very low electricity demand growth, have led to a 21% reduction of U.S. power sector carbon dioxide emissions nation-wide since 2005.
Increased deregulation of the oil and gas sector will lead to more oil and gas production. But an increase in natural gas production is another nail in the coffin for coal. Demand has been relatively low for natural gas over the last twelve months, mostly due to a mild winter, and 2016 being the warmest year on record. As more natural gas is stored, prices will remain low and gas will continue to displace coal as the preferred fuel by utilities. All the while, more wind and solar will be built, hastening the closure of coal plants.
This policy won’t work. Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, the largest coal mining company in the US, told then President-elect Trump in December to “temper his expectations” when it comes to bringing back coal jobs in the US. If the President wants to bring back coal jobs, the nation should invest in cleaner energy sources, including wind, solar, geothermal, natural gas, advanced nuclear energy, as well as carbon capture and sequestration technology for coal and gas and electric storage, to power the economy into the coming decades.