News Analysis: Planned Rollback of Climate Rules Unlikely to Achieve All Trump’s Goals
Yet, coal miners also should not assume their jobs will return if Trump’s regulations take effect.
The new order would mean that older coal plants that had been marked for closings would probably stay open, said Robert W. Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming. That would extend the market demand for coal for up to a decade.
But even so, “the mines that are staying open are using more mechanization,” he said. “They’re not hiring people.”
“So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs,” he said.
Legal experts say it could take years for the Trump administration to unwind the Clean Power Plan, which itself has not yet been carried out because it has been temporarily frozen by a Supreme Court order. Those regulations sought to cut planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. If enacted, they would have shut down hundreds of those plants, frozen construction of future plants and replaced them with wind and solar farms.
Throughout his campaign, Mr. Trump highlighted his support of coal miners, holding multiple rallies in coal country and vowing to restore lost jobs to the flagging industry. At a rally last week in Kentucky, Mr. Trump vowed that his executive order would “save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work.”
While the number of coal mining jobs has dropped in the United States, they do not represent a significant portion of the American economy. Coal companies employed about 65,971 miners in 2015, down from 87,755 in 2008, according to Energy Department statistics.
And though the percentage of coal mining jobs dropped sharply, economists said that was not driven by the Clean Power Plan. Rather, they blamed two key forces: an increase in production of natural gas, which is a cheaper, cleaner-burning alternative to coal, and an increase in automation, which allowed coal companies to produce more fuel with fewer employees. The rollback of Mr. Obama’s regulations will not change either of those forces, economists say.
“The problem with coal jobs has not been CO2 regulations, so this will probably not bring back coal jobs,” Mr. Godby said. “The problem has been that there has not been market demand for coal.”
The coal industry nonetheless cheered the move.
“These actions are vital to the American coal industry, to our survival, and to getting some of our coal families back to work,” said Robert E. Murray, the chief executive of Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal mining companies.
But even Mr. Murray conceded that he did not expect the Trump administration’s order to return coal mining numbers to their former strength. “I really don’t know how far the coal industry can be brought back,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s directive on Tuesday will also eliminate about a half-dozen of Mr. Obama’s smaller executive orders and memorandums related to combating climate change.
White House officials said they included lifting a ban on new coal mining on federal lands, and recalculating a budgeting metric known as the social cost of carbon that, under the Obama administration, limited pollution by arguing that global warming outweighed economic benefits for industries. Combined, while the measures may not revive the coal industry, they are likely to ensure the United States’ emissions of planet-warming pollution remain high.
The executive order is not expected to address the United States’ participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the landmark accord that committed nearly every country to take steps to reduce pollution. The aim of the Paris deal is to ensure that countries reduce emissions enough to stave off a warming of the planet by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the level at which, experts say, the Earth will be irrevocably locked into a future of extreme droughts, flooding, and food and water shortages.
But experts say Mr. Trump’s order signals that the United States will not meet its pledges to cut its emissions about 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
“Meeting the U.S. terms of the Paris Agreement would require full enforcement of the current regulations, plus additional regulations,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University. “It takes a comprehensive effort involving every country doing what they committed to and more.”
He said Mr. Trump’s order “sends a signal to other countries that they might not have to meet their commitments — which would mean that the world would fail to stay out of the climate danger zone.”
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