Which is it? Is the coal industry on the ropes, or is it roaring back? The answer is that it’s complicated.

Perspective is required to understand where the coal industry currently stands.

While it may seem like distant history, the effects of the prior administration’s anti-coal regulatory spree persist. From 2011 to 2016, coal industry employment fell 40%. More than 62,000 miners lost their jobs in a five-year period. The current administration’s regulatory reset has largely stopped the bleeding. In fact, at the end of 2018, industry employment increased slightly.

That is not to say industry’s prospects are glowing. But halting tens of thousands of job losses per year is a noteworthy achievement.

The near halving of the coal-mining workforce was the direct and deliberate result of bad public policy choices that picked winners and losers — not simply the market, as some would like you to believe. Look at the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. While the Environmental Protection Agency predicted that the MATS rule would result in less than 5 gigawatts of coal plant retirements, the actual result turned out to be significantly more.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ultimately found that the EPA adopted MATS without appropriate cost consideration, the ruling came after the deadline for compliance, leaving many plant operators with no choice but to shut down coal-fueled plants. In fact, a Duke University study found that the MATS rules threatened the economic viability of 56% of the coal fleet; without MATS, only 9% of the fleet was threatened by low natural gas prices. This is what damaging regulation can do.

Compare that to the action under the current administration. In 2017, the Trump administration, with the help of Congress, overturned the Stream Protection Rule, which threatened another third of the coal industry’s jobs. The current administration also repealed and replaced the Clean Power Plan, which would have driven much of the existing coal fleet off the grid. Either one of these rules could have been a near fatal blow on the heels of the near halving of the industry under the prior administration.

While the current administration has worked to lift the foot of government off the chest of coal country, the damage done was never going to be easily repaired. Tearing down is far easier than rebuilding.

Exports have been a bright spot in what remains a challenging period. Coal exports were up 30% last year, and were up 60% the year prior, and while those remarkable gains are tempered this year, U.S. coal continues to play an essential role in meeting rising energy demand and fueling industrialization overseas.

World energy demand is forecast to grow 50% by 2050. Coal remains the world’s leading fuel for electricity generation. American coal can help supply those energy needs and provide vital inputs for producing the steel required for growing cities and an expanding global middle class.

Here at home, challenges remain for coal. The repercussions of those challenges affect not just miners and the coal industry, but energy consumers as well.

Essential coal plants continue to close, pushed into early retirement by a gamed marketplace, riddled with subsidies that are incapable of properly valuing coal’s contribution to grid reliability and resilience. It’s an alarming trend in need of decisive action.

While utilities, the Department of Energy and even utility regulators have grown increasingly concerned about the loss of

fuel-secure coal plants, the accelerating problem has only been met with study. That must change.

There is no precedent to inform the challenge our grid now faces. Just a few years ago, more than 70% of the nation’s power came from fuel-secure plants with weeks, even months, of fuel stored on-site. By the close of this year, it will be just 30%.

Never has the nation relied so heavily on just-in-time fuel delivery, whether from an overstretched natural gas pipeline network or from intermittent renewable sources of power. We are trading sources of power that have long underpinned grid reliability with those that compromise it. While voters continue to tell us they want an all-of-the-above energy strategy that includes coal, natural gas, nuclear power and renewables, they’re getting anything but.

Our balanced mix of energy sources is eroding with troubling consequences for both grid reliability and electricity affordability. We need affordable, reliable and secure coal power now more than ever. While the Trump administration has done much to stop the devastating job losses caused by the prior administration’s policy assault, regulators and policymakers must act now to correct persisting market distortions.

Rich Nolan is president and CEO of the National Mining Association. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency.

(22) comments

Craig Hicks

I’m glad the Frederick News Post printed the author’s affiliation. He heads the National Mining Association whose experience includes working as a lobbyist and political consultant. His job is to promote the coal industry and this op-ed is part of a PR campaign aimed at building public support for laws and regulations that favor coal over other energy sources.




The FNP usually includes the credentials of guest writers, especially those with a hidden agenda or a strong interest in the outcome.


I noticed that, but it also falls into Trump's way.


 The U.S. coal industry is declining in the face of lower-cost natural gas, renewable energy and regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect public health. Decades of mechanization have also reduced employment. This has spurred a wave of coal companies to declare bankruptcy, including four industry giants between 2015 and 2018.  Utilities are accelerating their retirement of coal plants because they are increasingly uneconomical. According to cost estimates from investment bank Lazard, the lower-end of the average price for coal-fired power is now almost $20 higher per megawatt hour than that for a natural gas. The lower-end of the average prices per megawatt hour for wind and utility-scale solar are even more competitive with coal, even without subsidies, at $29 and $36 respectively.As of 2018, 70 percent of coal capacity in the U.S. had a higher running cost than renewables, and by 2030, that number is expected to reach 100 percent.https://climatenexus.org/climate-issues/energy/whats-driving-the-decline-of-coal-in-the-united-states/More than half of the coal loss is due to met coal loss.  Met coal is coal used for making steel.  And China makes and uses half of the steel made, but they have built out what they needed and now control the price, making many U.S. coal companies to go bankrupt.  Met coal is dirtier - from a carbon view point, than thermal coal used for steam.https://www.vox.com/2016/2/22/11090878/us-coal-industry-falling-apartFive reasons coal is falling:Coal kills Politicians are cracking downUse of coal is fallingCoal is economicCoal miners are walking awayhttps://oilprice.com/Energy/Coal/5-Reasons-Why-Coal-Is-Being-Killed-Off.html  


One needs only to look at recent history to know that mining companies, if left unchecked, destroy the environment.


Not limited to recent history at all.


Coal may have a future use as a chemical stock and can wait for the technology to use it properly without harming our environment. Until then we have many energy sources that will be less expensive and safer for us.


So basically, the author is arguing that those pesky regulations that limit the toxic pollutants into our air, streams and communities are the problem. Who cares if it harms people. Give me a break.


Yes, that has been the industry's position for decades. No one can name any extraction industry that has been beneficial to the state of extraction.

Obadiah Plainsmen

When renewable/clean energy becomes cheaper than existing and new coal, the only use for coal will be to fill Christmas stockings to those on Santa's naughty list.


It has already been shown to be cheaper. Read the numbers in the article showing an opposing viewpoint.


[thumbup]HD2. Trump is helping coal because he got donations from coal and he made it a campaign promise, capitalizing on Hillary's promise to eliminate coal jobs. Trump also promised "clean coal," but anyone paying attention knew the clean coal technology is way too expensive.


OK, if 62,000 coal mining jobs were lost over that 5-year period, let us know how many jobs were gained in other energy fields over that time - jobs that were less likely to kill or incapacitate the workers, as well as the rest of us.


The loss of coal mining jobs is a good sign overall. It means we are moving away from that dirty fuel. But......be aware of the dark side of large scale battery production. Mining heavy metals is even worse for the environment and public health than coal dust and coal ash.


Coal does have staying power - in our air and in our atmosphere.


And in our lungs.


I wonder if Rich Nolan lives in Washington state? If not, he should becuase he'd make a good cherry picker what with all the cherry picking he's done with the data used to support his position. Additionally he's essentially saying we shouldn't regulate the toxins the coal industry (e.g., mining and coal fired power plants) is disposing on other people's proerty, the air, the water, etc. In other words he's for irresponsible behavior by corporations which will kill people with their pollution as long as they are making money and employing people. If Rich doesn't want good regulation for controlling pollution being discharged onto others by coal fired power plants here's an option: Do away with he tall smoke stacks. Let them discharge what they want as long as it is from the center of the plant and the discharge point is no higher than 6 feet off the ground for air pollutants and for water pollutants, they keep all of the discharge on their property. One other requirement is that the plany manager and one corporate executive must live generally downwind and within a mile of the plant. no other requirement. Let's see if they would go for something like that where beyond those requirements, they can pick and choose how they control their pollution.


And to be fair about it, the wind power executives should have to live downwind from the wind turbines.




No way. They would get cancer.


If you can’t trust POTUS, you can’t trust...POTUS.

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