It’s understandable why America’s coal communities are experiencing some hope after almost a decade of despair. President-Elect Donald Trump, who vowed to revive America’s coal industry, will be replacing a president who vowed to bankrupt it.
It’s an amazing turn of events, with coal’s potential savior unexpectedly turning out to be a Manhattan billionaire. No wonder this election befuddled almost everyone.
Let’s start with the ramifications for coal. Clearly, voter sentiment is at odds with recent U.S. policies to keep America’s world-leading coal reserves in the ground. Indeed, a post-election poll conducted by Morning Consult for the National Mining Association (NMA) found that 67 percent of voters favor using coal with other fossil fuels.
In post-election Washington, however, the current administration, and the environmental activists invested in its regulatory agenda, are seized with dread. This is understandable, since no other policy area could experience changes as dramatic as those for energy and the environment. And that’s because no other area provoked such sharply drawn differences between the two major candidates.
Some observers suggest that the election results might pose a wholesale repudiation of the climate change mantra that has served as a cornerstone of President Obama’s legacy. That’s because “decarbonization” is finally giving way to more pressing concerns about the deindustrialization of the U.S. economy and the loss of high-wage jobs. Simply put, doubling down on coal regulations is out; doubling down on coal itself is in. And so, the president who boasted of using his pen to regulate the coal industry is now being succeeded by a president who has promised to void such regulations.Significantly, individual states could also be winners under a Trump administration. President Obama’s “Clean Power Plan” (CPP) clearly muscled in on state authority — with an overreach that has driven 28 states to file legal objections. Now, however, such wilfulness could be replaced by policies that accord states more of their customary deference.
After the flush of victory, though, it’s never too soon for the winners to start adjusting expectations. Undoing regulations, with some currently ensnared in litigation, is seldom easy — even when the party of change controls the White House and the Congress.
For one thing, every incoming administration is thrown into the deep end of the pool; none gets to wade in. There will be high priorities and low priorities. In this case, among the higher priorities will likely be tax reform and wholesale changes to both the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank.
What matters for coal, though, is that there is a basket of regulations and executive actions that should serve as the focus of immediate action. And that starts with removing the moratorium on federal coal leases, which can be accomplished with the stroke of a pen. Notably, the administration has just decided, in its waning days, to issue a final Stream Rule that threatens up to a third of existing coal jobs. Happily, Congress can void it through legislation passed within 60 days by simple majorities in both houses, assuming no presidential veto.
Finally, the Clean Power Plan that targets power plants is now awaiting the verdict of the D.C. Circuit Court. If industry's objections are upheld, don't expect the new Department of Justice to appeal it. Not after the president-elect called the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory overreach "a disgrace." And if the court sends the rule back to the agency for revision, a weaker rule is likely to emerge — sometime.
There are reasons to be hopeful that relief is coming to an important sector of the U.S. economy. And since the nation's coal workers have been helping to provide affordable power for decades, they may finally receive some of the respect they very much deserve.
Luke Popovich is vice president for external communications at the National Mining Association (NMA).