THE FIRST 100 DAYS: Coal at a Crossroads

“The American people deserve a regulatory system that works for them, not against them – a system that is both effective and efficient,” the Trump Administration wrote. “Each year, however, Federal agencies issue thousands of new regulations that, taken together, impose substantial burdens on American consumers and businesses big and small. These burdens function much like taxes that unnecessarily inhibit growth and employment. Many regulations, though well intentioned, do not achieve their intended outcomes, are not structured in the most cost‐effective manner, and often have adverse, unanticipated consequences. Many more regulations that have been on the books for years – even if they made sense at the time – have gone unexamined and may no longer be effective or necessary. The President is committed to fixing these problems by eliminating unnecessary and wasteful regulations.”

Combined with steps being undertaken by Congress, through the Congressional Review Act or through slower, regular legislative channels, the sun is beginning to shine through the regulatory cloud that has hung over the industry for the past eight years. And confidence in the future of the coal industry is beginning to build.

Still, it is important to note that this does not mean the industry will return to the levels its saw in the mid‐2000s. The closures of hundreds of coal units in the power sector won’t be undone with the stroke of a pen or by the action of Congress. Most of those plants are now gone or have been converted to use other fuels, such as natural gas. In effect, those markets are lost.

However, with a return to more normal natural gas market pricing and the repeal of costly, restrictive regulations further threatening coal mining and use, as well as a more welcoming policy environment for coal, the industry can reclaim some of its former market. Combined with President Trump’s stated goal of investing in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, the nation’s coal industry could be poised to take advantage of the increased demand for energy that will likely result from such projects and economic expansion.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OUR OPPORTUNITIES

What a difference six months can make. In October, our industry was preparing to weather another four to eight years of regulatory challenges anticipated by a Clinton administration. The forecast was a bit bleak. Today, we are well on our way to a regulatory reset and a leveling of the playing field for coal.

As this article has outlined, the Trump Administration and its allies in Congress are moving quickly to eliminate many of the regulations targeted at coal for the past eight years. This is great for the industry, for coal‐related jobs, and for our nation’s future.

Looking ahead, how do we make sure that this doesn’t happen again in four or eight years? What steps do we take now to secure our industry’s future well into the 21st Century? There is a window to find that way forward and lay the groundwork to make it reality. Some policy approaches may be found in other articles in this issue of American Coal.