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Here's Why Trump Won't Be Able to Keep His Promise Coal Miners

Eric Pianin
Here's Why Trump Won't Be Able to Keep His Promise Coal Miners

In a bid to make good on a campaign pledge to Appalachia, President Trump is scheduled to take another big step this week towards scrapping the Obama administration’s efforts to curb industrial carbon emissions that critics charge have seriously hurt the struggling coal industry and tossed tens of thousands of miners out of work. 

Trump will sign an executive order on Tuesday repealing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan designed to slash greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants by a third in the coming decade and fulfill the U.S. commitment to an international global warming agreement reached in Paris in late 2015. It will be Trump’s second executive action since February aimed at shredding government regulations restricting coal productions and surface mining techniques that pollute streams, groundwater and wildlife.

Related: Trump’s Rollback on Clean Air and Water Rules Could Raise Health Care Costs

However, a top coal industry executive is warning Trump to “temper” his promises of new job creations to avoid setting up industry officials and unemployed miner workers for a major disappointment if the coal industry fails to make a big comeback.

Robert Murray, the founder and chief executive of Murray Energy, the largest privately held coal mining company in the U.S., says Trump’s election has been a boon to the coal industry, and that he is moving in the right direction in trying to strip away Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and mining agency regulations that have hastened the demise of King Coal.

Since Obama’s election in 2008, more than 50 coal mining companies have gone bankrupt and more than 400 coal-fired power plants were shuttered. Coal mining employment plummeted from 127,745 in 2008 to only 98,5005 in 2015, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Related: Environmentalists’ Worst Fears About Trump Are Coming True

But Murray, who endorsed Trump last May and raised money for his campaign,  cautioned in an interview with The Guardian that market forces including stiff competition from cheaper shale gas production and new technology and more mechanized techniques for mining coal have contributed mightily to the sharp decline in employment throughout mining states like West Virginia and Kentucky that supported Trump in the November election.

Murray said that “I would not say it’s a good time in the coal industry,” although there have been some improvements in the past year.

However, the politically active coal mining executive said he stressed during a meeting with Trump that there were limits to what could be done through administrative action and rule changing to bring back the industry to where it once was in terms of jobs. “I suggested that he temper his expectations,” Murray told The Guardian.  “Those are my exact words. He can’t bring them back.”

Related: Are Coal Miners Headed for Heartbreak Under the GOP?

Scott Pruitt, the new EPA administrator, said during an appearance Sunday on ABC News’ This Week that Trump will sign an executive order on Tuesday to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan aimed at sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions from aging coal-fired power plants throughout the country. The 2015 rule has been held in abeyance since last year while a federal appeals court considers a challenge by a dozen coal-friendly, largely Republican states and more than 100 companies.

Pruitt, the former attorney general for the state of Oklahoma, was a leader in challenging that and other EPA regulations in court before he was tapped by Trump to head the premier agency responsible for clean air and water regulations and efforts to contain climate change. Trump has described climate change as a “hoax,” while Pruitt contends the Paris climate accord is a “bad deal” for the U.S. and the mining industry – and one that has driven up electricity costs.

“So we’ve penalized ourselves through lost jobs while China and India didn’t take steps to address the issue internationally,” Pruitt said. “So Paris was just a bad deal, in my estimation.

Asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos whether Trump’s executive action will bring back coal jobs, Pruitt replied: “I think absolutely it will. It will bring back manufacturing jobs across the country, coal jobs across the country.”

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