Not sure what the Russians hoped Trump would change, but the coal industry hoped he would remove the regulatory boot off its neck. He has. Trump’s deregulatory push and undiminished support for coal and its miners have helped the beleaguered industry recover after former president Barack Obama’s reign. Trump’s recent determination to spare coal-based power plants further endears him to the industry. All that will be lost if Democrats seize control of the House and set about derailing the president’s program. In that event, said one coal lobbyist, “you can throw the administration’s agenda out the window.”
In fact, coal may be uniquely vulnerable to Democratic ire because the president’s support makes coal a surrogate for the president they hate. What better way to rebuke him – and repay wealthy liberal funders like Michael Bloomberg for the $80 million he donated to green candidates – than to keep coal in the ground?
If the House flips, the change will be stark, starting with the new leadership in committees critical to coal. Chairman R. Bishop (UT) of Natural Resources will give way to R. Grijalva (AZ), who’s never seen a mine he didn’t want to close. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), rating each member for siding with the Left’s environmental agenda, gave Bishop a 2 and Grijalva 96. How he missed 100 remains a mystery to his staff and to coal miners.
At the Ways and Means Committee, Chairman K. Brady (TX) will hand his gavel to R. Neal (MA), who boasts an LCV rating of 92 and opposes the percentage depletion tax preference. At Energy and Commerce, LCV hero F. Pallone (NJ) takes over from G. Walden (OR) and may quickly resume his push for tougher water quality regulations.
If the Senate also falls into Democratic hands, the coal industry will become Christians in the Colosseum. At the Finance Committee, miners can expect little mercy after Ron Wyden (OR) replaces Chairman Orrin Hatch (UT) and even less mercy from Maria Cantwell (WA) who would succeed Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (AK) at Energy and Natural Resources.
Committee chairs have strong oversight authority, enough to tie up administration officials for months on end. They can enforce a 100-day deadline for documents and testimony and invoke subpoena powers to compel testimony. Recall the Spanish Inquisition; we may see CEOs hauled up before members – some elected with green money – and questioned about their company’s role in climate change. Meanwhile, specific policy priorities high up on industry’s legislative agenda – from New Source Review reform and cost recovery for coal plant reliability to black lung disability taxes and MSHA right-sizing – will be either slow-walked or stopped cold.
If things turn south for coal in November, remember this is Washington, where people never learn from the past and the victors always overplay their hand. After two years of Speaker Pelosi and the “fish-are-people-too” crowd, Republicans in 2020 won’t have an “enthusiasm” problem. And voters may gladly overcome reservations to give Trump four more years.
So, stay calm. But vote.
Luke Popovich is a consultant and the retired vice president for external communications for National Mining Association.