A year into his presidency, President Donald Trump has faltered on one of his most repeated campaign promises: putting coal miners back to work, according to new government data first reported by Reuters.
Despite initiating a slew of regulatory rollbacks allegedly aimed at helping the struggling coal sector regain jobs, the entire sector grew by just 771 jobs during Trump’s first year. Moreover, several key coal-producing states like Ohio, Kentucky, Montana, and Wyoming lost more coal jobs than they gained in the past year, a sign that Trump’s deregulatory agenda will do little to stem the loss of coal jobs created by automation and cheap natural gas.
As a candidate, Trump campaigned heavily on the false idea that environmental regulations created by the Obama administration — mainly the Clean Power Plan, which would have placed the first-ever greenhouse gas emission limits on power plants — were to blame for the steady decline in coal-related jobs in recent years. According to energy experts, the rise of cheap natural gas unleashed by fracking, as well as the rise in automation in coal mines and the falling costs of renewable energy, were the primary contributors to the decline in coal-related jobs. The industry has lost some 30,000 mining jobs between 2008 and 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Still, despite only modest growth in the coal sector this year — growth that some experts say will likely be short lived, as global market dynamics continue to shift — many in the coal industry remain committed to the idea that the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda has lead to marked improvements. During a November public hearing on the administration’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, for instance, coal executive Robert Murray claimed that actions taken by Trump had “saved 25,000 coal mining jobs” — a number widely debunked by both government and public interest group data.
Since Trump was elected in November of 2016, 24 coal-fired power plants have announced plans to retire, according to the Sierra Club. And while coal production ticked slightly up in 2017, the U.S. Energy Information Administration is forecasting that production will likely drop some 2 percent in 2018, due to an expected decrease in coal exports.