EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said on ABC’s This Week the order would counter “the past administration’s effort to kill jobs across this country.” He suggested the administration’s environmental policies would be both pro-jobs and pro-environment, following clean air and clean water rules while asking federal agencies over the next six months to identify rules that hinder development of energy resources.
However, the US coal industry is dying regardless of anything Trump does, said industry experts, with fewer than 100,000 jobs now largely concentrated in Appalachian states.
“It won’t add any coal jobs, but it will set back the country as a leader on the environment,” finance director Tom Sanzillo of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis based in Cleveland told BuzzFeed News. Coal is a declining industry that serves up a product, energy, that costs more than wind, solar, and natural gas.
“That isn’t going to change and the fundamentals are inescapable,” Sanzillo said. “Nobody in the industry has a serious plan to reverse that.”
Robert Murray, head of the largest private US coal firm, Murray Coal, for example, told The Guardian on Monday that Trump should “temper his expectations” on reviving coal industry jobs, adding: “He can’t bring them back.”
Pruitt had previously helped lead a multi-state lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan, under which US power plant emissions of carbon dioxide would have fallen 32% lower. The plan foresaw states switching from coal-powered plants, which will drop from providing 39% of electricity nationwide to about 27% by 2030, with natural gas, solar, and wind power taking up the slack.
The EPA estimated that an overall gain of 60,000 to 80,000 jobs nationwide would result from the plan by 2020, largely windmill and solar panel installers. But the same estimate saw heavy job losses among coal miners. Voters in both Midwestern states that would benefit from the plan and coal states that would lose from it went heavily for Trump in the election. (In a typical month, the US economy might add 200,000 jobs, for perspective.)
A 2015 analysis in the journal PLOS One last year concluded that the health benefits alone — fewer asthma attacks and premature lung disease deaths from power plant emissions — exceeded the costs of the plan by $12 billion. Including the environmental benefits in that estimate raised that number to $33 billion by 2020.
Another part of Trump’s order would end a moratorium on coal companies digging up coal from federal land in Western states such as Wyoming, often sold with few bidders at below market prices. But since the price of natural gas is so low, there’s little reason for coal firms that have suffered a wave of bankruptcy to snatch up those leases now, Sanzillo said.
“Miscasting the issue to think that coal jobs are coming back just makes it harder to really help people,” he said. “That’s one part of the tragedy here.”