By Jason Hopkins
August 3, 2018 - American exports of coal have risen dramatically since President Donald Trump took office, bringing relief to an industry that has experienced years of decline.
Hammered with costly government regulations and stiff competition from cheap natural gas, the U.S. coal industry has been in a steady slump. Numerous coal plants have shuttered in recent years, with more expected closures on the way. During the 2016 presidential election, however, Trump vowed to change this trajectory.
According to recent figures, the Republican president appears to be making good on his promise.
Global demand for American coal is increasing — by a ton. Steam-coal shipments are expected to rise by 58 percent in 2018, according to an analysis by Guillaume Perret, the founder of a London-based research firm. Perret believes exports will reach as high as 65 million tons by 2025.
“Historically, exports of U.S. coal have been handicapped by its high sulfur content,” Perret stated to Bloomberg. “However, we think this will gradually be offset by its high calorific value, which is becoming increasingly scarce worldwide.”
For the first time since 2013, American coal production — including metallurgical coal that is used for steel production — actually grew. The numbers marked a sharp turning point for an industry that continued to shrink under the weight of environmental regulations enacted under the Obama administration.
Coal exports increased by 61 percent in 2017 — the first year of Trump’s presidency. Much of this increase is thanks to Asia, where U.S. exports more than doubled in 2017. India, South Korea and Japan were three of the top five purchasers of American steam coal exports that year, according to the Energy Information Administration. However, Europe continues to be the country’s largest buyer of American coal.
The increased exports are bringing relief to coal plants operating in the U.S., where federal and state policies have sought to minimize use of the fossil fuel.
The White House has actively sought to unshackle the coal industry from regulations mandated by the previous administration. Trump fulfilled a major campaign promise when he announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June 2017. Several months later, then-Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation that limited the amount of greenhouse gases power plants could emit.
In what would be more good news for coal workers, the White House is considering a sweeping plan to save coal and nuclear plants from early closures. If executed, the Trump administration would use emergency authority to mandate electricity providers purchase energy from at-risk plants for two years.
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