Trump promised to save the coal industry; it hasn't happened


Coal trains by Flickr user Kimon Berlin (Used under CC License)

Coal trains by Flickr user Kimon Berlin (Used under CC License)

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You may recall that President Donald Trump made some ambitious and audacious campaign promises about his plans to revive America's dwindling coal industry.

Two weeks ago, The Washington Post fact-checked the president's delivery on those promises after his first year in office—in multiples of "Pinocchios," its measure of untruthfulness for claims and statements by public figures.

Good news: Trump's poor grades from The Washington Post instantly makes any ninth-grader's miserable attempts at algebra seem honorable.

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Bad news: Regardless of what Trump says about coal—or how many times he says it—the realities for the industry are discouraging.

Last week, The New York Times profiled the grim future of today's miners and the substance they pull from the ground.

Despite Trump's promises of more jobs and less regulation, consumption of coal in the U.S. has plummeted to its lowest level in four decades.

Coal's share of U.S. electricity generation, 1949-2015 [U.S. Energy Information Administration data]

Coal's share of U.S. electricity generation, 1949-2015 [U.S. Energy Information Administration data]

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More mines are closing, and the ones that are staying open aren't producing coal for power generation—they're producing it instead for steelmaking.

As for the president's claims and promises, there's simply no such thing as "clean coal"—it has the highest emissions of carbon dioxide of any widely used fuel, and hence contributes more to climate change than other fuels.

Moreover, the administration's claim that it would add "50,000 jobs in the coal sector" is cut from the same whole cloth. (The entire U.S. coal industry now employs fewer people than fast-food chain Arby's alone.)

CHECK OUT: Energy Dept disappoints US coal industry: no order keeping plants open

Shipping coal to China isn't going to save West Virginia's economy, and withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement won't reopen a single mine either.

Trump's statement that the U.S. has enough coal in the ground for "1,000 years" is largely refuted by The Washington Post in its analysis.

It's one of the easier claims to debunk, in fact. It's hard to know how much coal is in the ground, because it's in the ground.

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration has estimated the U.S. has roughly 283 years of coal reserves to tap—or 72 percent less than Trump's millennium.

It's unclear if Trump is blissfully ignorant to the realities of coal production or if he's simply stopped listening to actual facts.

It's equally hard to imagine that a slew of fact-based stories by newspapers like The Washington Post or The New York Times will open ears or change many minds either.

But we hope that those who in coal country who believed the president listen instead to the experts in energy reporting—including the EIA—who have all but unanimously concluded steam coal is steadily marching toward obsolescence.

Whether they know it or not, they're the canaries in the coal mines now.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

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