Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to revive the moribund American coal industry – decrying what he called Obama’s “war on coal.”
That helped Trump win crucial electoral votes in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and other coal-producing states, without which he would not be president.
However, like so much of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, his promise to revive the dying coal industry and restore thousands of coal miners jobs is just another lie, if the President’s top economic advisor is to be believed.
Flying back on Air Force One from the Middle East and Europe, where he accompanied the President on his first foreign foray, former Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn told reporters that coal “doesn’t really make that much sense anymore.”
Cohn said the energy mix in America is changing: “Natural gas, which we have become an abundant producer, which we’re going to become a major exporter of, is such a cleaner fuel.”
His remarks reflect the reality of the world market where coal is declining and natural gas consumption is on the rise – with an array of alternative fuels coming up fast.
“If you think about how solar and how much wind power we’ve created in the United States,” added Cohn, “we can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly.”
The reality is that the loss of coal jobs, closing of mines and bankruptcy by coal companies was never because there were too many federal regulations.
The economics of coal production could not match natural gas, and the environmental devastation of carbon-based fuels was an escalating calamity contributing to climate change – even if Trump claims that’s a hoax.
It was less than two months ago that Trump put on a big show of signing executive orders to roll back regulations that were supposed to boost coal business and jobs, surrounded by coal miners and coal industry leaders.
Trump reversed Obama-era regulations that prevented the dumping of coal mining debris into streams, and he lifted a moratorium on coal mining leases on federal land.
While politicians from coal states including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of the few Democrats to support coal (because that is what he has to do to get re-elected), were shocked and angry over Cohn’s comments, the facts of what is happening in the world economy tell a different story.
“Coal is increasingly not competitive,” Melinda Pierce, legislative director of the Sierra Club told CNBC, “as the market, international community and public opinion reject this dirty fossil fuel that makes our families sick, pollutes our air and water and and threatens our climate.”
Pierce said it is time for even the Trump administration to stop putting “polluter profits ahead of the health of our communities.”
It is unlikely health benefits would have convinced Cohn that coal needs to be buried. He has the instinct of someone who grew up on Wall Street for where to make the next smart economic bet on profits, jobs and economic longevity – and he knows it is not in the burning of coal.
Trump has not spoken out about the future of American energy use and production, but that could follow.
As he changed his mind on so many things – from investigating Hillary to China to his health plan to NATO – Trump could do an about face on coal.
If he did that, perhaps he would finally fill all the government jobs for scientists and environmental experts that he has left unoccupied so American can once again be competitive in the world energy markets of the future.
Maybe this will even signal a shift to stay with the Paris accords on climate change not just to be annoying, but to join with every other country in on the planet in dealing with this global crisis.
Or he could decide to stifle Cohn. and make sure America still has a big lump of coal in its Christmas stocking for the next four years, as the rest of the world takes the lead on the energy jobs of the future.