Can Trump Really Make U.S. Coal Great Again?

By Tsvetana Paraskova, a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. Originally published at OilPrice

All along the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised that he would save the U.S. coal industry by rescinding prohibitive regulations, if elected. As President-elect, Trump is reiterating his vow to lift restrictions on America’s energy production. But is it possible to revive the faltering industry?

Of course, the promises were made more emphatically in the heart of coal country—which encompasses heavy coal producers Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wyoming, as well as sections of other states, including North Dakota, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

Source: EIA

Not surprisingly, coal country largely voted for Trump, including Pennsylvania, which although considered a battleground state, voted for the Democratic candidate in the previous six elections.

The election of Trump instilled some hope into the coal mining industry, especially compared to the Clinton alternative.

That said, even if Trump were to be able to single-handedly change all the anti-coal energy rules, there are real economic factors that could hinder coal demand and prevent mining jobs from returning to the highs seen in the 1970s.

The first of these real factors is the fact that there is now abundant and cheap natural gas, courtesy of the U.S. shale revolution of the past decade, which is burning coal’s market share as an energy source.

Then, there’s the global drive toward cleaner energy, and even if the U.S. President-elect is skeptical about global warming and climate change, the fact remains that the world continues to push for cutting carbon dioxide emissions and reducing carbon footprints.

Next, projections for the global coal consumption for the next two decades are not rosy, mainly because China is trying to diversify its fuel mix in its fight against air pollution.

Some electric utility officials in the U.S. see the development of new coal-fired generation as very difficult as well.

Last but not least, the number of mining jobs is unlikely to return to the 1970s boom, not only because of the current state of the industry, but also because technology and higher-mechanized forms of mining are increasingly being used in lieu of human labor.

The day after the U.S. presidential election, the West Virginia Coal Association welcomed the election result, with association president Bill Raney saying, “This election outcome is more than West Virginia’s coal industry could have hoped for.”

Just a couple of days ago, President-elect Trump outlined executive actions that he vowed to take on Day One of his term in office.

“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal, creating many millions of high-paying jobs,” Trump said regarding energy.

If he indeed can lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas, the first immediate beneficiary of such move would be natural gas, not coal.

Last year, U.S. coal production fell 10.3 percent annually to the lowest annual production level since 1986, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said. The average number of employees at U.S. coal mines went down 12 percent to 65,971 employees, the lowest on record since EIA began collecting data in 1978.

It’s not only the latest available data showing a decline in coal; EIA’s projections through 2040 see U.S. coal consumption further declining, especially in the electric power sector. On the other hand, natural gas consumption is expected to grow in the industrial sector and the electric power sector.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) largely agrees with EIA’s projections, and sees natural gas and renewables as clear winners in global energy for the next 25 years, with coal consumption near stagnate through 2040, due to China diversifying its fuel mix and fighting air pollution.

Practically speaking, if Trump rescinds all clean energy acts and lifts moratoriums on federal land drilling and mining, it will be in a world that has been shifting away from coal, and as such, demand for coal is not expected to make huge leaps in future.

There are cheaper and cleaner alternatives available today, especially shale gas in the U.S. The tide is turning, and earlier this week, Canada said that it was phasing out coal by 2030.

U.S. electricity utilities are also diversifying energy sources.

“If he were able to do that, I don’t know really how much impact it would have because we’re moving ahead and rebalancing our portfolio,” Nick Akins, president and CEO at American Electric Power, has said for USA Today.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for new coal-fired generation to get developed,” Akins noted.

Regulation alone may prove to be an insufficient injection for making U.S. coal great again, despite Trump’s pledges, executive orders, and regulation lifting—although it might, at worst, slow its inevitable demise, or at best, modestly boost the industry.

Miner Gary Chapman summed it all up, speaking to Associated Press:

“I believe they’ll bring a lot of it back. Do I believe it will be what it used to be? No. It’ll never be that again.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. pretzelattack

    one of my fading hopes is that trump will be open to learning he’s wrong about climate change, since i see him as much more of a grifter than an ideologue. not looking likely, sadly, but maybe the rest of the world will constrain him to some extent.

    1. rd

      It’s not greenhouse gas and climate change that killed coal. It was sulfur and soot. For some odd reason, people didn’t like having acid rain and smog. So regulations were passed to manage that. Natural gas stepped in as an inexpensive clean replacement.

      Coal was already on the way out before carbon emissions came to the fore.

      Recent coal ash spills into rivers are also adding new cost layers to coal. People downstream of power plants want to have actual water in their streams and rivers. Power companies are spending billions of dollars now managing coal ash. That item wasn’t on their ledger 5 years ago.

      1. pretzelattack

        well, it’s not dead yet, unfortunately, and cutting nasa’s research will hurt us in coping with other fossil fuels, and the propaganda that supports their use.

        1. Jeff Jenkins

          coal is still king in the third world. it amazes me how provincial we still are not to know such things, but then we dont have any vacation, so go figure.

          1. jrs

            If we had vacation we could read more probably and learn more that way. I’m in favor of it and would use it for that and other small pleasures. If we had vacation and used it to fly all over the place, talk about fossil fuel use oh my. Fry the planet, almost an argument against it, but still in favor of shorter work days!

            1. Tony Wright

              What! Shorter working days! Vacations! Civilised working conditions like the French?! I thought they were the root of all evil – just ask the economists….
              At least the new planes are more fuel efficient than the old ones, and much of SE Asia seems to be economically dependent on tourism from more affluent countries.

      2. Ultrapope

        I’m of two minds regarding the first paragraph of your comment.

        I currently live in Pittsburgh where, for the most part, the environmental damage done to coal is not as immediately visible as it was some time ago. People in the city and surrounding 25 mi radius seem to remember the soot and smog and want very little to do with it.

        Contrasting that with Hazelton, where my grandparents lived, the story is very different. Coal there was still piled high last I visited and the surrounding country side looks like it was nuked in some parts. I know a lot of the white working class there would love to see coal return in force.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that people’s disgust with soot and smog is variable. Pittsburgh has seen the damage followed by clean up and moved a fair amount of its economy away from coal & steel. Hazelton has not. People there are poor and getting poorer. They don’t really know an environment without acid rain and soot. Frankly dying at the ripe old age of 60 with money in your pocket beats dying at the ripe old age of 60 without a penny to your name.

        Please note that this is all anecdotal. Things are changing, and hopefully I’ll soon be wrong

    2. different clue

      Here’s how Ireland could contribute to constraining Trump. TrumpCo Incorporated has a luxury golf resort by the seaside in Ireland. TrumpCo recently requested the Irish government’s permission to build a great big seawall to prevent damage to the Trump Golf Resort there caused by rising sea levels caused by . . . wait for it . . . global warming.

      Here is Ireland’s big chance to deNY Trump his permit because Trump himself said there is no such thing as global warming. Which means there is no such thing as sea level rise, which means there is no seaside threat to Trump’s seaside golf resort. And Ireland can KEEP denying Trump’s seawall permit request until Trump declares on National TV that Global Warming is a Thing and Global Warming is Real and America supports the Paris Accord and will stay in it. Once Trump does all that, then Ireland can issue provisional permits lasting a day at a time, and can keep issuing single-day permits for every day that Trump remains supportive of Global DeWarming efforts.

  2. Phil

    A really good con builds trust, first. A genius con can have his “mark” eating out of his hand, even if the mark is wary, at first. Then, the con reels in his “mark”, little-by-little. A promise here; a promise there; just delivering on the initial promise hooks the mark a little deeper.

    The con’s appeal is always to the mark’s most vulnerable weaknesses and desires. A genius con can spot vulnerabilities in a potential mark within minutes. It’s uncanny.

    Once the con has begun, the mark is presented with statements of reassurance by the con, with the mark eventually engaging in more and more confirmation bias, as, over time, the mark begins to realize that things are not “quite right”. The con keeps the mark busy by throwing up all kinds of smoke screens about how the mark “shouldn’t worry”. Eventually, before the mark comes to full awareness of have been completely screwed over, the con is long gone, having profited from his game, and moved on to his next thing.

    1. pretzelattack

      well most grifters imo aren’t like clinton; they don’t have a nasty ideological streak which gives their scamming a more sinister purpose than merely staid old self enrichment (they’re fine with that, too). i think some of them can be loyal, too, to people they know, and they have to try to be realistic. so the question would be who trump is conning, and how much regard he has for his kids interests, which is mixed in with his own self regard if only because they represent his only shot at immortality.

      i expected trump to be a standard republican, but with two important possible benefits, scuttling the trade treaties and recognizing the huge blunder the republicans committed in iraq (yes i know the democrats helped them immensely), and thus somewhat less likely to get us into a war with russia.

      i didn’t expect him to move so quickly to help us emit more co2. given the increasing pace of climate change, that represents almost the level of threat of risking a war with russia. interesting times.

      1. FluffytheObeseCat

        Looking at the assortment he has tapped to lead his administration I see a few big common factors: they’re mostly fairly old guys, they all have a major authoritarian streak, and none of them are engineers or scientists. I think they truly don’t see climate change. They believe the ultra-right narrative that it’s a hoax, perpetrated by those who want to take all the glory out of their lives. They are truly privileged men. The well-documented does not impinge on their rarified world.

        1. Mark P.

          ‘they’re mostly fairly old guys …They believe the ultra-right narrative that it’s a hoax.’

          Maybe not all of them. Flynn and Mattis are ex-military and the Pentagon believes in climate change.

          1. Chris

            I’ve often wondered why the Pentagon doesn’t more aggressively ‘lobby’ both the Executive and Legislative branches on such issues as climate change and income inequality. Both issues factor heavily into defense planning scenarios and war gaming efforts. If the Pentagon were to openly acknowledge that climate change and income inequality directly impede their ability to fulfill their role in the national security strategy and defend the country, I’d have to believe the public would rally around them on these issues, the President and Congress as well.

            1. John Wright

              Income inequality probably benefits the Pentagon as they are a major employer of labor.

              This makes the military a more attractive career for lower income people.

              Higher wages make it more difficult to recruit

            2. John Morrison

              I wouldn’t be surprised if climate change also benefited the Pentagon — or at least didn’t harm the Pentagon’s position of power. The populations damaged by global warming long before Manhattan submerges are poor countries who depend (for example) on snow runoff for their water — runoff that has been disappearing.

              Some such countries may be sufficiently desperate that they might attempt geoengineering — or hold the world hostage to the threat of geoengineering. (Geoengineering: dumping large amounts of material into the atmosphere to reduce the amount of sun’s energy reaching the earth.)

              That would feed into the Pentagon’s mission for, and desire for, war.

          2. different clue

            The DoD people and the Intel Comm people don’t have to “believe in” global warming. They SEE the global warming all around them. They are just being reality-based, with no belief in anything necessary.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Its always hard to tell with those individuals. Plenty of them are ‘true believers’, but its become impossible to get anywhere in Republican politics without buying into the ‘climate change is a hoax’ meme – even McCain was forced to recant. So I would guess that some of them know full well its a threat and would be pragmatic when it comes to decision making. I think also international pressure could be significant, even isolationists don’t want to become pariahs.

          1. jrs

            I rather doubt anyone can really manage that level of cognitive dissonance and be able to make decent decisions in the end, but I guess we could hope. After Florida is underwater or something but …

            1. rd

              Florida is the proof of much of the psychological and behavioral economics research that has been done. The most likely place to cease to exist due to global warming refuses to believe it exists, probably because acknowledgement would hurt property values.

                  1. different clue

                    Psychonomics would be the study of how different psychological profiles link to different choices of economic theory.

                    First a whole bunch of people would have to be studied in detail for all kinds of psychological features. Then they would be asked all kinds of questions to determine their working approach to economics whether they call it a “theory” or not. Correlations could be found, or not.

                    Eventually perhaps, peoples’ choice of school-of-economics could be predicted by their detailed psychological profile and descriptive data.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        My guess is that his instinct will be to pull a fast one on the coal industry if its in his interest. The energy industry is not a monolith – as an obvious example, the gas frackers would love to kill coal stone dead, by shutting down coal thermal capacity they guarantee themselves a bigger future market as gas displaces coal as base load. And the blob will be whispering in his ear that oil and gas is more important than coal in maintaining energy independence. So I suspect he will deliver his promises on oil and gas, but not coal.

    2. Oil Dusk

      Your right! This is one of the themes of the Climate Hustle movie!

      BTW, you neglected to mention that global coal demand is still growing by 1.6% a year!

  3. Ignacio

    If Trump has been cynical enough, his claims about coal were just attempts to gain votes with no real interest on coal. I am quite sure, the Energy Dpt. has a lot of plans on energy diversification that would be much more effective in energy diversification and employment creation. I just hope common sense is still there…

  4. The Trumpening

    I think saying that since Trump will be unable to bring US coal back to its heydays in the 70’s that he somehow broke a campaign promise is unjust. All he said he would do is “save” the coal industry. Going back to the employment levels of the 70’s was NOT on the ballot two weeks ago. What was on the ballot was a candidate who promised a hard or even crash landing for US coal and another who implied a much softer and stretched out landing.

    And whatever environmental damage that may be created by extending the life of the US coal industry will be more than offset for by the decrease in environmental damage due to the decrease in immigration Trump will bring about. Overpopulation used to be discussed in environmental circles but since the related concept of overimmigration became an item this whole discussion has been shut down. The more Trump’s enforces immigration restrictionist policies, the lower the US population will be in 2100. Current immigration trends end up with a US population of 520 million or so. Very strict immigration restrictions could result in steady state or no-growth population policy which could mean only around 340 million in 2100.

  5. Collapsar

    Aside from natural gas being cheap and abundant these days, there is the added output that natural gas powered generators are capable of that coal fired plants could never hope to match. Per this post from, many modern natural gas plants are so-called combined cycle generators that burn natural gas to power one generator and the hot exhaust from the first generator is used to heat water which powers a second steam powered generator. Coal can’t do that.

    1. Octopii

      No reason a coal plant can’t do that. One of the concepts “clean coal” refers to is the integrated gasification combined cycle plant, which is analogous to the gas-fired combined cycle plant but with an additional step of gasifying the coal first. Obviously, as long as nat gas is cheap nobody will be building IGCC plants.

      Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

    2. FluffytheObeseCat

      “Coal can’t do that.”

      Yes it can. In theory, you could fuel a combined-cycle plant with coal. When you burn coal you generate hot exhaust and that waste heat could be recycled to generate steam. The key is “modern natural gas plants are so-called combined cycle generators“. Much coal-fired generation in the US is from decades old plants, most natural gas generation comes from newer or more sophisticated equipment.

      Methane leakage during extraction and transport of natural gas may be high enough — nationwide — that increasing gas-fired generation might not be ‘better’ for global warming than upgrading all our coal-fired plants. Which would involve enormous cap ex and would lock us into burning coal for decades. There are other benefits to burning gas, like the lack of by-product soot and sulfur. These are major benefits, and should probably drive a switch to natural gas generation on their own account.

      But, when it comes to dumping carbon in the atmosphere, fossil fuels are all a problem. Without comprehensive deployment of carbon capture techniques they all pour carbon into the atmosphere.

      1. different clue

        Enhanced photosynthesis all over the world combined with soil-storage of some of the product of that enhanced photosynthesis all over the world is one way to perform carbon capture.

  6. skippy

    NO…. unless as stocking stuffers for the next 4 years….

    Disheveled Marsupial…. financial and insurance industry is not pro-growth in this sector – en fin…

  7. EndOfTheWorld

    Once I read about a proposal to make hydrogen out of coal in some non-polluting manner. Then vehicles could run on H.

    Apparently we do have coal in great supply, so it will eventually be used one way or another.

    1. rd

      The non-polluting part is key We are still cleaning up manufactured gas plants from the 1800s. The converted coal into coal gas and coal tar to provide lighting and heat.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Hydrogen can be extracted from coal through gasification (in situ or ex situ), with CO2 as a by-product which can then (theoretically) be sequestered geologically. However, so far as I know all the research indicates that its a very expensive process (if it is done in a non-polluting way) and not likely to be cost competitive with renewables in the short to medium term. And then there is the problem that hydrogen is very expensive to store and transport.

      1. EndOfTheWorld

        Well, H fuel cell cars are already on the scene, so it’s a question of whether people like them or not. You can purchase a Toyota Mirai with three years’ complimentary fuel for a mere $57,500. (CA rebate–$5,000)

      2. Alejandro

        “very expensive process (if it is done in a non-polluting way)”

        Does the research measure and compare the cost of polluting, to put “very expensive” in context? Mostly seems that the neoliberal “logic” of “free” markets never consider the costs of externalities, whether they be social or environmental.

      3. Synoia

        Hydrogen is almost impossible to store and transport as Hydrogen.

        It is either refrigerated below -424deg F, or compressed at over 3,000 psi. In addition compressed hydrogen is especially dangerous because it heats as it expands.

        The best containment for Hydrogen is the chemical bond, (As in Methane or Methanol) and the chemical bond is the best storage mechanism for energy.

        Anything else is just plain nonsense.

      4. different clue

        Several decades ago in school I remember our class being shown a film strip about using ammonia-ammonium gas in pipelines as a way to transport Hydrogen gas. One of those ammonis has a single more H atom in the molecule than the other one has. ( I forget which is which). That film strip offered the promise of pipeline shipping that ammoni +H to the target where the H is stripped off and burned for energy and the ammoni -H is sent back to the H plussing plant, where the ammoni is rendered +H again.

        Also, several months ago someone on these threads wrote about an obscure mid-sized oil company taking out patents on using activated petcoke in tanks as a way to store hydrogen as a “para-liquid” at room temperature and pressure.

      5. John Morrison

        Dumb question: how much hydrogen is in coal?

        Hydrogen can be extracted from natural gas, because it is primarily methane — CH4. Coal is a different beast; it’s mostly carbon.

        Some years back, I heard considerable discussion of CO2 sequestering, but then the discussion seemed to disappear. Although I was skeptical, I strongly supported an experimental test plant. If CO2 sequestering proves viable, coal could be used as a straight energy source. It would take a huge capital investment to replace the current coal plants with sequestering plants.

        I’m afraid there was a reason the discussion seemed to disappear. That reason might possibly have been a discovery that sequestering would be non-viable.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Its not a dumb question – coal is nearly all carbon with just trace amounts of hydrogen. I can’t recall the precise equation, but gasification of coal involves steam breaking down the coal into a variety of gases, including hydrogen (which comes mostly from the water I think)) and carbon monoxide.

  8. Vernon Hamilton

    I have worked in power industry O&M for 35 years. the prospect of a coal renaissance is as welcome as a zombie invasion, and about as likely. Burning gas is leaps and bounds better in every imaginable way, and there wont be any going back.
    Burning coal is miserable brutal work. wearing full body PPE while shoveling all day in the summer is certainly an honest respectable living, Bill Ramey and the rest of the coal lobbyists are welcome to come on down and pitch in if they think its so wonderful.
    Telling ex-coal miners “we are sending you back in to the mines (because there is no other work for you), and you will like it” (and they cheer) is the most appalling con worked in modern times.

    1. Jake

      Visit Roslyn Washington (Where Coal Was King) sometime, or an old mining town in the Appalachians. What you will see featured prominently are the cemeteries, full of men who died in mining accidents, or died in their forties and fifties – almost certainly from pulmonary diseases. We revere the people who settled here but don’t want to repeat those times. Nor is there a market for the product, the growth is now in solar and wind sourced electricity.

    2. baldski

      I have operated boilers on residual heavy fuel oil and natural gas. The choice between these two is hands down natural gas. Boilers operated on natural gas could go two years between cleanings versus every 3 months for fuel oil.

  9. Jane

    Maybe not coal, but he’s certainly making Christmas Great Again at only $149.00 a piece. Part of Trump’s plan to bring manufacturing jobs back to the USA? The site FAQ claims all products are 100% made in the USA.

  10. Dita

    This may be oversimplifying but it’s a win for trump in any case. As long as he can legitimately claim to have delivered on his promise to free coal from regs. He just needs to scratch that itch to deregulate, if the market doesn’t want more coal, that won’t be on him.

  11. TG

    Imagine you were on the Titanic right after it had struck an iceberg. One officer says no worry, the ship cannot sink steel naturally floats and maybe the seabed is shallow enough that it won’t matter. Then you meet another officer who says my goodness the ship is sinking and the water is freezing, and you think, at least, a sane person. You suggest that the gap in the hull letting all that seawater into the ship should be closed off, and suddenly the officer attacks you as a vile racist, you just can’t say that, the answer is for all of us to publicly worry about the ship sinking and express our concern. And you realize that in fact there are two classes of morons here.

    Nothing trumps (sorry) population growth. It is the engine. Per-capita energy consumption in the US is well below the 1970 peak – total is only going up because of population growth. As far as the rest of the world: India makes noises about green tech, but these are fantasies: the real plan is to burn so much coal that even if the US eliminated all carbon emissions it would not matter.

    Unless we address population growth as a factor which cannot be ignored – which is largely the result of pro-natalist government policies and official silence – anything else is irrelevant.

    1. Brad

      Nah, the problem is that the US is by far the world’s most inefficient consumer of energy. US per capita usage is (if I recall) 25 times that of China and 35 times that of India, but a more apt and damning comparison shows that it is almost twice that of Japan and W. Europe, and they leave the lights on 24×7 in Japan. All those people wheeling around in Tonka trucks living in the suburban-exurban sticks (and voting Trump) need to get another lifestyle. But they don’t wanna, huh.

      The moral responsibility rests upon the US most of all. It needs to straighten out its inefficient metro suburban transport system asap. And its diabetes inducing agro-food processing system. It needs to stop devoting 70% of its agricultural land to feeding cow flatulence (1% goes to vegetables). It is failing to do so because it refuses to do so. Wanna lead the world? Start leading.

      Lots of things I don’t care for in Kunstler, but on this he’s right on the money: it’s the Clusterfuck Nation’s fault.

      1. Vatch

        US per capita usage is (if I recall) 25 times that of China and 35 times that of India

        You have exaggerated the difference in per capita energy use among the United States, China, and India. Take a look at this site:

        In the kilogram of oil equivalent per capita for 2013, here is how the countries match up:

        United States 6915.8
        China 2271.2
        India 606.1

        (Also note that 9 countries are even worse than the U.S.)

        So the United States is 3 times less energy efficient than China is, and the U.S. is a little more than 11 time less energy efficient than India. Clearly the U.S. needs improvement. However, some of this is attributable to some of the longer distances traveled by some people in the U.S., which was discussed in these comments at NC yesterday (see the replies by Kent, Michael, and Kurt Sperry):

        Some of the difference is also attributable to the greater degree of poverty in China and especially India. That’s why India plans to double their use of coal, after all. The U.S. must become more energy efficient, but that won’t solve the world’s energy, pollution, or climate change problems, because there are far too many people in other countries who will eagerly become more intensive energy users. TG is absolutely correct: overpopulation must be solved if we hope to solve our energy and pollution problems.

        1. Alejandro

          I decidedly diverge from the neo-Malthusian extrapolations, moralizing and rhetoric, especially when willingly or unwittingly sophistic.

          But I do think that A. Bartlett made a compelling case, from a critical thinking POV–“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function”…although gapminder, with access to seemingly wide, reliable and accurate data, seems to make the case that the logistics function is closer to how population actually grows…

          Al Bartlett;

          Gapminder-Hans Rosling;

          Note that neither are economists.

          1. John Morrison

            What causes the function to change from exponential to logistic? Birth-rate decrease or death-rate increase, or both. For death-rate increase, the change from exponential to logistic is best possible result, using rate-limited resources (such as sunlight).

            Other biological results are increase to a maximum, followed by a crash.

          2. John Morrison

            I just watched the “Don’t Panic” video (on gapminder). Excellent movie. At least, it talks about the birth rate having reduced. I think that with a little tender loving care, the world can take 11 billion persons. (I think breaking the power of the 0.01% may be necessary.) Their view was the population limitation, while essential, was essentially going to happen at about 11 billion.

            I was scared that it would be one of those propaganda features about how good population growth was. “Hey, with seven billion, we are much better off than they were with only ten million. Imagine what things would be like with 100 billion persons!”

            Also, the movie recognized that global climate change was a major issue — perhaps the essential issue regarding upwardly mobile economies. And yes, those of us who live at the top mustn’t look down and tell them they couldn’t come up.

            One thing kept nagging at me: the reference to the daily dollar wage as a measure of poverty without considering the cost of living. Probably ten dollars a day here in the USA would be as bad as a dollar a day in Mozambique.

        2. Ignacio

          Selected countries electric consumption by 2013 (kg oil equivalent/per capita):

          Brazil: 1.438
          Mexico: 1.546
          China: 2.226
          Spain: 2.504
          Italy: 2.579
          UK: 2.978
          France: 3.840
          Germany: 3.868
          Netherlands: 4.605
          Sweden: 5.132
          Australia: 5.586
          S. Arabia: 6.363
          Norway: 6.439
          US: 6.916
          Canada: 7.202
          Luxembourg: 7.310
          Bahrain: 10.172
          Iceland: 18.177

          Notice that latitude matters a lot. Also crude availability. Some kind of tabulation should be done by latitude to identify big spenders. Anyway, it’s clear that the UK is quite efficient given its latitude, and a good example on how much could be saved with improvements in energy efficiency. By contrast, Luxembourg, the banking country, is an outlier. They probably join the european chorus against med club countries for not complying with Kyoto rules. No lack of hypocrisy there.

      2. kareninca

        “All those people wheeling around in Tonka trucks living in the suburban-exurban sticks (and voting Trump) need to get another lifestyle.”

        I know a plenty of Clinton voters who drive giant SUVs, go on loads of overseas vacations and conferences and own second homes, and eat meat daily. But claim to care about global warming. And the few Trump voters I know (in CT in ME) drive small and modest cars and don’t travel or own second homes (not by choice; they are poor). I’d like to see a carbon-use breakdown by political affiliation. I think carbon use more likely tracks income, with some outliers (e.g. Greens and a subset of Christians who try to live simply).

  12. Vernon Hamilton

    There is no hydrogen in coal. Coal syngas is made by dissociating steam in a sub-stochiometric flame. Syngas production requires water to supply the hydrogen. The energy to dissociate the water comes from the combustion of coal to CO. The product is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, ( and of course coal ash). This method of making “producer gas” pre-dates the arrival of “natural” gas in gas-lit cities. it isnt expensive. it is toxic, that is why it used to be that one could commit suicide by leaving the gas on.
    even separating CO from hydrogen gas is common practice in the oil refining industry.

    the expensive part is the “sequestering”. Precisely there we have a technological non starter.

  13. Mark Frederi

    In a word, no. Coal and oil fired electric plants are converting to natural gas at a rapid pace. As the conversions continue and old coal fired plants are retired the outlook for coal grows more dire. Even if the GOP Congress manged to provide some tax incentives or significantly eases regulations, coal mining is not the manpower intensive enterprise it once was so employment will not reach pre “slump” levels. Even so, it cost 66$ to generate 1MWh using natural gas, $92 for coal. The economies of scale, ease and lower cost of transport and less wear and tear on the physical plant and of course lower harmful emmisions of all types means natural gas is the fuel of choice for the foreseeable future.

  14. JimTan

    Coal’s economic issues also stem from technological innovations that favor natural gas over coal for to generate electricity. New Combined Cycle Natural Gas power plants generate more electricity per unit of fuel than Coal Steam power plants. According to the U.S. Department of Energy “Coal steam power plants require more energy input per megawatthour of generation than natural gas-fired combined-cycle plants……the low cost of coal relative to natural gas until recent years favored the use of coal-fired generating”:

    I think this means that current technology allows us to convert more energy to electricity from Natural Gas than Coal. This favors Natural Gas as a power source unless Coal is significantly cheaper.

      1. JimTan

        Interesting paper, thank you for the link.

        I think what you’re getting at here is that combined cycle gas turbines can also efficiently use coal gas/syngas fuel. This would be a useful idea in that pyrolyzing coal to generate syngas also creates a good amount of coke (the main fuel for metal smelting blast furnaces), and coal tar (which created the modern chemical industry when dyes, organic solvents, and pharmaceuticals were first extracted from it). That said, pyrolysis requires intense heating which means lots of energy. Natural gas is stored in rock under high pressure and naturally pumps itself out. I don’t know the precise economics of both but I’d assume that the energy consumption to produce coal syngas is higher than that to produce natural gas, which subtracts from its efficiency in generating electric power in a combined cycle gas turbine. Extracting natural gas on the other hand does not generate Coke and Coal Tar. Different ways of looking at this I suppose.

  15. Rosario

    No, costs are getting too high for extraction even without regs and there are limits to how much even Trump can do. The amount of labor engaged in the industry is less and less each year, the antagonism toward the industry is growing in tandem. Wrecked roads, property, watersheds, it is too visible and too messy, fracking is a bit cleaner, at least on the surface, pun intended.

    Maybe the coal industry can swing it for a few more decades in Wyoming but not in Eastern KY and to a certain extent in W. Virginia (W. Virginia is fine for a while, they still have a less compromised “coal culture” and a lot of coke quality coal with a much higher wholesale rate). Also, you can’t deregulate natural gas and “save” coal at the same time. Natural gas will drop in cost displacing what little room is left for coal. Remember that many coal plants are being retired for wear and tear reasons, not just regulations. Lower natural gas will accelerate a move to combined cycle facilities in a climate of low natural gas prices.

    Once the domestic market is saturated with natural gas, producers will (try to) export the natural gas, then the price will go up, then utilities will be in a pickle. Even if that doesn’t happen, as is always the case with fracked wells, the depletion rate is logarithmic. What to do then, build more coal plants and swing back into a dying realm of power production? I doubt it. Irony is, Trump may very well be the push needed to force utilities in the middle US to consider renewables as viable to their portfolio. My hope is a less shitty candidate in 2020 can take advantage of the stressful utility market to push a federal level energy initiative. Dreams, dreams.

    1. baldski

      We are already exporting natural gas. Cheniere LNG out of Lake Charles, LA. New liquifaction plants building in Corpus Christi and elsewhere and on the drawing boards.

      1. Rosario

        Well aware, problem is the ships are floating atomic weapons in terms of yield (1 megaton of TNT or greater). There is a reason these facilities are built in the middle of nowhere. Depending on the glut absorbed by the domestic market, trying to build more facilities to export the remainder will be a political nightmare for the industry in the coming years and all it takes is one person on a ship turning or not turning a valve one way and it will be international news that some fishing town in East Texas with all 1000 inhabitants got wiped off the map. Maybe I’m being pessimistic but with more volume comes a greater chance of an incident (think rail transport with domestic fracking).

  16. Art Eclectic

    Even if federal regulations are removed, there are still state regulations and the fastest growing demand for energy is coming from states that are ideologically blue and committed to expanding renewable energy use and fighting pollution. Chances of getting any new coal fired plants in the states with the greatest demand and greatest capability to build new plants is unlikely.

    Plus, there are the economics of natural gas as mentioned numerous times above. Trump promising to “bring coal back” is like promising to bring horse and carriages back. Technology, demand, and costs have moved on.

  17. Brad

    BLS tells us that energy extraction has the lowest labor /capital job creation potential. US Crude oil output virtually doubled between 2008-2015, but created only ~35K jobs. Coal mining is no longer thousands of miners underground; it’s a few guys taking off mountaintops with giant earth moving machines.

    Will have next to nil impact on the real working class who overwhelmingly live in the big cities, the ones that didn’t vote Trump and who generally hate him. They get orange cones.

    1. optimader

      Coal fired PPants? invest in electrostatic precipitator and mercury adsorbent suppliers?
      Ultimately It will be an economic decision
      Combined cycle NG fired vs coal fired w/ emission controls. I think the investment will be NGfired CCP.
      ….so then invest in superalloy metallurgy elemental extraction (chrome , nickel, cobalt, tantalum, niobium etc..?

      Oh dear, pick you poison and exploitation.

  18. likbez

    Many here are assuming that the current fracked natural gas volumes will continue indefinitely. This is a wrong hypothesis.

    Coal might be need because locally produced natural gas can became expensive pretty soon and burning it for generating electricity would be unwise. It is an more important as input for chemical industry then for power generation. In power generation it is essential only for rapid balancing wind and solar energy production.

    The current costs of natural gas, which makes it suitable for power generation, are “unnatural” and can’t be sustained for another ten years. So anybody who plans beyond that should think about alternatives. Coal is one of them.

  19. different clue

    I use huge amounts of energy at my job. I will not quit my job. So that will continue.

    But at home in my dwelling unit, I use 3.something kilowatt-hours of electricurrent per day in a bad billmonth and 2.something kilowatt-hours of electricurrent per day in a good billmonth.

    Just this last billmonth I used 2.4 kwhours of ecurrent per day. The billmonth before that I used 2.0 kwhours of ecurrent per day. If I were a family of four, that would be 9.6 kwhours per day this last month, and 8 kwhours per day the month before. Is that more than the homedwelling retail end user average? Then I still have work to do. Is that less than the personal average? Then more is still possible for others.

    Here is a hope-inspiring Vision Thing. Imagine one hundred million pairs of Strong Blue Hands all wrapped around the neck of Thermal Coal . . . squeezing . . squeeeezing . . . crushing. . .

Comments are closed.