WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump’s efforts to rescue the mining industry and its workers under the slogan “coal is back” are not producing the results desired by the White House.
Throughout the 2016 election campaign, Trump made a point of targeting and visiting states such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania all of which have historically been mining strongholds.
During these visits, Trump expressed his support for the mining sector against what he labeled the “coal war” of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
These states, together with Wyoming and Illinois, account for 70 percent of the country’s coal production.
The president has appointed Andrew Wheeler, a well-known advocate for the coal industry, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an agency dedicated to preserving the environment, a move that has been widely criticized by environmentalists.
Under his mandate, EPA has announced a proposal for regulations that would facilitate the elimination of regulations on emissions from coal-fired power plants, a new Trump measure that further dissolves Obama’s environmental legacy designed to tackle the climate crisis and to reduce emissions.
Despite this aggressive rhetoric and the measures that have already come into force, data reveals a trend that seems irreversible: the use of coal in the US has continued to decline and is at its lowest level in more than 40 years.
According to recent figures from the Department of Energy, the use of coal in May fell to 687 million tons, the lowest figure since 1978. Production also dropped to its second lowest level since that year.
In the past eight years, according to the Sierra Club environmental organization, a total of 290 coal-fired power plants have closed in the country or announced their closure in the near future.
A large part of coal is used to produce electricity and, despite the clear decline in both production and demand, the Trump Administration earmarked $39 million in April to investigate the improvement of carbon plants’ efficiency.
“Maximizing our domestic resources is key to maintaining American energy independence and ensuring both our energy and national security,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at the time.
However, recent studies from Columbia University and the Brookings Institute show that the collapse of coal cities located in the states of Montana and Wyoming, among others, is getting imminent.
The new report analyzes 26 counties in ten different states classified as “dependent on coal mining” and concludes that these areas, already heavily affected by the coal decline, are not prepared for the impact of climate policies.
If the United States were to address the risks of climate change, the use of coal in the energy sector would decrease rapidly.
And despite the political drive to artificially prop up the coal sector it has suffered a steady decline for decades, both due to the growing demand for new energy sources and the rise of automation and more efficient mining practices.
Since 1950, the number of mining jobs has plummeted 88 percent.
There is also another battle that plagues the US mining industry, the dispute over the processing of rare-earth metals which are essential products for the production of technology products, from electric cars to military equipment.
The only operating rare earth metals mine in the US is the Mountain Pass, located in California, although it is closer to Las Vegas than to Los Angeles.
The US relies on China for approximately 80 percent of its supply of rare earth elements, according to the US Geological Survey, and these minerals have played a key role in the current trade war between Washington and Beijing.
Fully aware of this dependence, Chinese president Xi Jinping has the upper hand in this battle: namely if the US imposed higher tariffs on Chinese rare earths, the Asian giant would retaliate by limiting exports.
In order to mitigate the effects of this threat from China, Trump reached an agreement in mid-June with his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, to develop a joint action plan to “ensure a reliable supply” of rare-earth minerals, although the full scope of this plan is unknown.