Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech last night contained few references to energy, but one had to do with bringing coal jobs back. His two themes for why jobs have been lost are costly environmental regulations and bad trade deals leading to foreign competition. Regulations do raise the cost to electric utilities of using coal and therefore have the utilities looking for substitutes more than they otherwise would. However, by far the dominant reason for shrinkage in the coal industry is the availability of cheap natural gas. And this gas is cheap even though heavily regulated by the states and federal government. As for bad trade deals and foreign competition, in this case, the competition is homegrown, good old American natural gas. Would he still offer protection for coal jobs in this case? By far the better response to what has been a secular decline in coal jobs is better job retraining and other programs, which admittedly need improvement.
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