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As Trump Administration seeks to revive coal, what is the industry’s future?

US President Donald Trump holds up a
US President Donald Trump holds up a "Trump Digs Coal" sign as he arrives to speak during a Make America Great Again Rally at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, West Virginia, August 3, 2017.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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It’s no secret that environmentalists and the coal mining industry have long been at odds.

But more fuel has been added to the fire, so to speak, as the Trump Administration’s Interior Department has moved to lift a moratorium on coal leases in public lands. The temporary ban was enacted under the Obama Administration, which quickly drew opposition from major mining companies.

As reported by the New York Times, about 85 percent of coal mined from federal lands in the West is from the Powder River Basin. The basin, which includes lands in Wyoming and Montana, produces a small amount of exported coal. Trump has accused the Obama Administration of trying to stifle exports, a market which has become increasingly competitive in sales to power plants in Asia, particularly China. In the West, Vancouver has the most accessible export terminal, but more capacity is needed to stay competitive in the growing global market. And environmentalists have blocked any new developments for a terminal in the U.S.

While California isn’t regarded as “coal country,” the state, along with New Mexico, sued the Trump Administration earlier this year to reverse the rollback in royalties for coal mining companies. But all coal isn’t created equal. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), or what some call “clean coal,” is touted to capture up to 90 percent of carbon emissions. The technology can also be used as liquid fuel for planes and cement production. Even with the controversy surrounding the coal industry’s lack of jobs, traditional coal doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. So what’s the future of the coal industry? Will Trump be able to revive coal? And what will that mean for the environment?

Correction: This post originally stated that 85 percent of coal comes from the West. The New York Times reported that 85 percent of coal mined from federal lands in the West is from the Powder River Basin. We regret the error.


Mark Mills, physicist and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute where his focus includes energy and energy technology, and a faculty fellow at Northwestern’s Engineering School; he tweets @MarkPMills

Daniel Schrag, geochemist and professor of geology, environmental science and engineering; he is also the director at Harvard University Center for the Environment and served on President Obama’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (2009 to 2016)

Ethan Elkind, director of the Climate Program at Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at UC Berkeley; he also leads the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative on behalf of UC Berkeley and UCLA