Help for coal country addresses tough truth

The future of coal remains murky, if not downright grim, despite an uptick in production in Colorado under the Trump administration, which has rolled back Obama-era regulations the industry considered excessively burdensome.

President Trump has promised to bring back coal jobs, but there are a bunch of reasons why experts say that wont’ happen. First and foremost, utilities are increasingly turning to natural gas for power generation, driving the demand for coal down and creating a glut of unwanted coal on the market.

If there was a war on coal, it was waged by natural gas producers as much of the Obama administration.

As the Washington Post reported in March, at least six plants that relied on coal have closed or announced they will close since Trump’s victory in November, including the main plant at the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, the largest in the West. Another 40 are projected to close during the president’s four-year term.

With no new U.S. coal-fired plants being built, the coal market is in a seemingly irreversible skid. Even if power companies stabilized the nation’s mix of energy fuels, there would be further erosion of coal-mining jobs because of technology.

Job losses predicted by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis in its 2017 U.S. Coal Outlook “will be related in part to the coal industry’s long-term business model of producing more coal with fewer workers.”

That’s why it’s important for someone to counter the fiction that Trump can resurrect jobs within the industry. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, has introduced the Coal Community Empowerment Act, which would encourage investment and retraining intended to help coal-reliant communities diversify their economies.

“Colorado’s coal communities have been hit hard economically by a long-term decline in coal demand that has accelerated over the last decade,” Bennet said in a news release. “… We have an obligation to provide our coal communities with the support they need to implement the strategies they’ve developed, so they can thrive again in today’s economy.”

Delta, Gunnison, Las Animas, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties in Colorado are among the 90 nationwide that would benefit from the legislation.  We hope it’s given serious consideration because it addresses a reality that’s been glossed over by the current political climate: coal jobs are disappearing and they aren’t coming back regardless of the regulatory environment.

Coal country has played a major role in the success of our state and our nation. Regardless of who’s to blame for coal’s demise, we can’t discard the communities built by coal whose future now hangs by a thread. Let’s give them a chance to prosper in new ways.


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