To be sure, it would be a heavy lift for any president to reverse the structural decline in the coal industry. But Trump has tried by repealing President Barack Obama’s signature plan to limit carbon emissions from power plants, scaled back other coal regulations and ended a moratorium on issuing leases to extract coal from federal lands.
Those regulations created hurdles for the coal industry, but the main problem remains competition from cheap natural gas and renewable energy, said Matt Preston, research director for North American coal markets at Wood Mackenzie.
“All of those hurdles would have been overcome if natural gas was really expensive … but with gas cheap, you just don’t go over those hurdles.”
“It’s a help, there’s no doubt about it,” he said, referring to deregulation. “But they’re not going to improve the economics of today.”
Luke Popovich, vice president of external communications at the National Mining Association, said he disagrees that Trump’s policies have been incidental or that the rebound has been modest.
“Had his administration prevailed with the Clean Power Plan, the moratorium on federal coal lease sales and the stream rule — all voided in this past year — coal communities and their employment would likely never have recovered,” he said. “That, to us, is the relevant and realistic measurement of coal’s comeback”