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Trump can’t stop coal’s death spiral, and his trade war may speed it up

U.S. coal production will hit a four-decade low this year as wind power soars, Trump administration reveals.

A wind farm near Palm Springs, CA on Earth Day, April 22, 2016, CREDIT: DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images.
A wind farm near Palm Springs, CA on Earth Day, April 22, 2016, CREDIT: DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images.

The Trump administration’s own data reveal coal isn’t coming back.

Coal consumption in the United States is being blown away by wind, according to new analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). And Trump’s trade war may be starting to worsen coal’s downward spiral.

The EIA projected on Tuesday that coal production will hit a four-decade low in 2019 and drop again in 2020. At the same time, renewable energy generation will soar over the next two years, led by wind power.

In fact, the EIA projects that “annual generation from wind will surpass hydropower generation for the first time in 2019.” In 2020, wind will expand its role as the leading source of U.S. renewable power.

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Despite telling West Virginians last August, “The coal industry is back,” President Donald Trump has presided over a faster rate of coal plant retirements in his first two years than President Barack Obama saw in his entire first term.

The administration has no answer to the economic reality that coal power plants have simply become increasingly unprofitable in the face of cheap fracked gas and the rapidly declining costs for wind, solar, battery storage, and energy efficiency.

The EIA projects that coal production will drop more 7% in 2019, and nearly 8% in 2020 — a result of more coal plants being shut down and renewable generation soaring.

On top of that, coal exports, which had briefly surged last year, have since dropped nearly 13% for the first four months of this year compared to last year. The EIA projects coal exports will ultimately drop 15% overall this year and keep dropping in 2020.

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According to a Monday report by Argus Media, an independent provider of data and analysis on energy and other commodities, the trade war between the U.S. and China has been hurting coal exports. In response to U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, China has placed a 25% tax on U.S. coal imports.

The bottom line is that despite his claims to the contrary, the coal industry is continuing its long-term downward spiral under Trump — and his own administration projects this spiral will continue.