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Coal's bleak future

Reuters
Saturday, December 02, 2017

WASHINGTON - A year after Donald Trump was elected president on a promise to revive the ailing US coal industry, the sector's long-term prospects for growth and hiring remain as bleak as ever.

A Reuters review of mining data shows an industry that has seen only modest gains in jobs and production this year — much of it from a temporary uptick in foreign demand for US coal rather than presidential policy changes.

US utilities are shutting coal-fired power plants at a rapid pace and shifting to cheap natural gas, along with wind and solar power. And domestic demand makes up about 90 per cent of the market for US coal.

"We're not planning to build any additional coal facilities," said Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power, one of the largest US utilities.

"The future for coal is dictated by economics … and you can't make those kinds of investments based on one administration's politics."

Coal plants now make up 47 per cent of AEP's capacity for power generation, a figure it plans to shrink to 33 per cent by 2030.

The situation highlights the limitations of presidential policy on major industries and global economic trends.

As some energy experts have said all along, the forces that will make or break mining are well beyond the powers of the Oval Office.

A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Trump has likely done all he can do to help the industry, said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, which represents major US coal companies.

"The government is no longer against us," he said.

"We now only have market forces to contend with."

Mr Trump has taken action on many promises he made to coal interests in states that helped him win the election.

The president started the process of killing former president Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, meant to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; ended an Obama-era moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands; ditched limits on dumping coal waste into streams; and started withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Now Mr Trump's Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, is attempting to push a rule through the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would subsidise power plants that store at least a 90-day supply of coal on site.

The goal is to extend the life of some coal burning power plants, a move Mr Perry says will make the electric grid more reliable.








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