The Coal Industry Has Lost Almost One Thousand Jobs Since Trump Became President
By Chuck Jones
March 8, 2020 - President Trump tweeted about the coal industry years before he announced his candidacy for the nation’s top office. He complained about President Obama’s policies and coal plants closing, even though market forces such as natural gas fracking were making coal less and less economically viable. Trump has embraced the coal industry and even appointed an ex-coal lobbyist to head the EPA.
Coal miners may be the hardest working American’s who do a very dangerous job in unhealthy conditions. Unfortunately for them, market forces, along with continued concerns about climate change, have pummeled the industry. Trump’s desire and actions to help miners have at best kept the industry from declining further, while not investing in renewable energy, where there is progress, is hampering job growth and negatively impacting the environment.
Number of Coal Jobs Has Declined Over Three Years
In an economy with over 129 million people employed by businesses, there are only just over 50,000 coal miners in the U.S. or 0.04% of the total number of people working. While there was a small uptick in coal miners after Trump was elected by a few thousand, the latest jobs report shows that there are fewer coal miners now working vs. three years ago. This compares to over 6.4 million jobs being added in the past three years.
- November 2016: 50.400
- January 2017: 50,900
- February 2020: 50,600 (down 300 since Trump’s inauguration)
Not Seasonally adjusted coal jobs:
- November 2016: 50.700
- January 2017: 51,000
- February 2020: 50,100 (down 900 since Trump’s inauguration)
The Dow Jones U.S. Coal Index tracks the coal industry subsector. When Trump was elected in November 2016 the index was around 45 and closed on Friday at 8.57, down approximately 80%. There have been numerous mine closures and bankruptcies during his time in office, with little positive outlook for the industry.
Exports Won’t Save Coal
The EIA or Energy Information Administration estimates that coal exports were less than 14% of total coal production in 2019. Thermal coal exports, used for power plants, was less than 6% of total production, while metallurgical coal exports, used for steelmaking, was 8%.
There is also a downward trend in coal exports this year as reported by S&P Global Market Intelligence by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. The data shows that through February 22 exports via the top five coal-export ports have declined from 13% to 69% year over year.
The overall decline in coal usage can also be seen in the weekly information published by the Association of American Railroads, which has coal shipments for the year down 17% compared to 2019.
Renewable Energy Continues to Grow in the U.S. and Internationally
For the second month over the past year, renewable energy has generated more electricity than coal in the U.S. While the numbers are still being confirmed, having this occur during the winter season when coal generated electricity is in high demand highlights the continued decline in coal and the slow but gradual increase in renewables.
Even in Oklahoma, wind provided over 40% of the state’s electricity generation last year. This is an increase from 33% in 2017 and 36% in 2018. It has also been estimated that over $20 billion has been invested in renewable projects in the state, which I suspect is multiples of what has been invested in the entire U.S. coal industry over the same timeframe.
In Germany the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems estimates that, “renewable energy sources provided a record 61.2% of Germany’s net public electricity generation in February and that wind energy provided nearly half of the country’s electricity during the month.” It added, “Throughout the month, Germany’s renewable energy sector regularly provided around 60% or above of the country’s electricity production – including over a dozen days around or above 70%.” Wind power generated almost 46% of the country’s total electricity for the month.