Exports have staunched the bleeding, but barely.
President Donald Trump came into office making extravagant promises to coal miners. He would put them back to work and get coal-fired power plants humming again.
How’s he doing so far?
The research outfit Rhodium Group has just released a helpful snapshot, in the form of a research note on US coal’s performance in 2017. To summarize: Coal production was up, barely, over 2016, but it had nothing to do with Trump or federal policy and produced few new jobs.
Domestic coal demand continues to decline
Trump has done nothing to revive America’s dwindling appetite for coal. US consumption continued its steady decline:
The reasons are familiar by now: cheap natural gas, cheap renewables, stagnant electricity demand, and old coal plants getting outcompeted on the market.
These numbers will fluctuate with the weather — coal is expected to do well during the polar vortex — and the legal chaos caused by Trump’s attempts at deregulation might slightly slow the decline, but in the mid- to long-term, decline is the only dish on the menu. “Between 2006 and 2016,” Rhodium writes, “US coal consumption declined by 34 percent and production fell by 37 percent.”
So why was production slightly up, 6 percent over 2016? The answer is exports.
US coal is now dependent on volatile export markets
This year, Asian coal demand, especially for steel production, made something of a recovery, while China and Australia reduced export volumes. The result was a 70 percent jump in US coal exports over 2016: