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  October 25th, 2017 | Written by

Coal Production Is Up Under Trump

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  • Who gets the credit for the uptick in US coal production?
  • In the first three quarters of 2017 US coal production was 12 percent higher than in 2016.
  • Bringing back coal jobs was one of Trump's big promises on the presidential campaign trail.

The US Energy Information Administration published numbers recently showing that coal production has grown since Trump took office. In the first three quarters of 2017 coal production was 12 percent higher than during the same period in 2016.

Bringing back coal and coal jobs by easing regulatory burdens on the industry was one of Trump’s big promises on the presidential campaign trail. At the time, experts pushed back, saying it was cheap natural gas being burned by power plants, and not bureaucratic requirements, that was driving down the use and production of coal.

Does Trump get credit for the recent uptick in coal production? Nah.

In fact, domestic and international economic happenstance—all beyond Trump’s control—provide the better explanation.

While running for president, Trump complained about the bankruptcies prevalent in the coal industry. But it turns out that three of the companies the filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and early 2016—Peabody Energy, Alpha Natural Resources, and Arch Coal—emerged from bankruptcy this year, making for a one time only circumstance that increased coal production after their absence from the arena last year. Those three companies accounted for over 40 percent of US coal production pre-bankruptcy. It turns out that coal is quite a concentrated industry.

Then there was a weather event in Australia that caused China to temporarily increase its imports of US coal. In April, Cyclone Debbie knocked out railways in Australia that transport coal to seaports and from there to international markets. China lost one of its main source of metallurgical coal, used for steelmaking. Metallurgical coal from the US made up for the temporary shortage.

Demand from China fueled a spike in US coal exports of 62 percent through September, according to EIA. Trump’s regulatory rollbacks have little to do with the increase in coal production just as Obama’s regulations were disconnected from the market forces that disadvantaged coal in the first place.

The long-term trends remain as they were. Since 2010, half of US coal power plants have retired or announced their retirement. As one recent study from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia concluded, “Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will not materially improve economic conditions in America’s coal communities.”