Can the Coal Mining Sector Saved?
President Donald Trump ran on a promise to bring jobs back to the U.S., specifically pointing towards coal mining and production as one sector that would be rejuvenated under his administration. But as more work is done on the subject, some believe that it is too late for the coal industry, and that those jobs may be lost forever.
The reason Trump singled out coal as an industry worth bringing back was the high wages typically associated with the sector. As in many other energy-related industries, when times are good for that energy source, workers are often rewarded. Take the boom-time oil wages that workers experienced in oil and tar sand fields, on drilling rigs, and pretty much anywhere else that was involved with oil drilling when the commodity was trading at well above $100.00 a barrel.
The White House is attempting to bring back coal jobs that had similarly rosy prospects for workers, with high wages and strong growth. But can those jobs ever return?
In one article for Mountain Town News, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado are examined as states that benefit from high coal production, but show a declining industry. Take the Colstrip area, which has 800 coal-related jobs. With two of the four coal-fired units closing in 2022, many of those jobs will disappear. The closures are the result of a lawsuit settlement over air quality violations.
And other issues are plaguing coal-producing states. Montana is one of the oldest states in the Union, and appears to only be getting older as time moves on. If the population cannot provide young and able workers to mine in the field, then another obstacle will be put in front of coal production.
The general discussion surrounding Trump’s assertion that coal can come back has multiple fronts, most of which are negative on coal. First, there’s the environmental factor, where increased coal usage would boost carbon emissions. Then, there’s the fact that other countries across the world, like China, have their own coal, so selling coal as an export would similarly be difficult. And finally, there are the many rivals to coal, like natural gas and oil, which can also hamper coal’s resurrection as a quintessentially American industry, especially in the Rust Belt.
Many of the states that turned Republican after voting for Barack Obama in 2012 were in the Rust Belt and have felt the sting of losing manufacturing jobs in sectors like coal. It will be crucial for Trump to deliver on his promise if he hopes to maintain their support. The question is whether it is possible to revive some of these flagging industries, or if Trump’s words were ultimately void.
“No one-stop shopping for solutions to job losses in coal communities,” Mountain Town News, June 19, 2017.