American Coal Is Dying, and There’s Nothing Donald Trump Can Do About It

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Will Donald Trump rescue the coal industry? Nah. Brad Plumer explains:

If you want to see a good example of why Trump will struggle to bring back coal, just look at Michigan.

Last weekend, the CEO of Michigan’s largest electric utility reiterated that his company is still planning to retire all eight of its remaining coal plants by 2030 — whether or not Trump tries to repeal President Obama’s climate policies. “All of those retirements are going to happen regardless of what Trump may or may not do with the Clean Power Plan,” DTE Energy’s Gerry Anderson told MLive.com’s Emily Lawler.

….In Michigan, a new coal plant costs $133 per megawatt hour. A natural gas plant costs half that. Even wind contracts cost about $74.52 per megawatt hour. “I don’t know anybody in the country who would build another coal plant,” Anderson said.

If you want this in chart form—and who wouldn’t?—here is US coal production in the 21st century:

And that’s not the half of it. Coal production has dropped 31 percent from its peak, but coal employment has dropped 41 percent:

Coal executives don’t want to employ more miners. They want to automate as much as possible to squeeze the last few profits out of a dying industry. This has nothing to do with Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and there’s nothing Donald Trump can do about it. Coal is a buggy whip in an automobile era.

Hillary Clinton warned the coal community about this, just like Walter Mondale warned everyone that Reagan would increase their taxes. They were both right, but no one wanted to hear it. They preferred grand promises from charlatans instead.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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