Thursday night in Huntington, President Trump continued his promise to bring coal jobs back to West Virginia. But what exactly is the future of the coal industry?
West Virginia may be in the heart of coal country, but coal has been on the decline for a while.
“I’d say tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, not just in the coal industry but in the associated industries, whether it’s rail or equipment suppliers, distributers and those kinds of things,” said WV Senator (R) Shelley Moore Capito.
According to the US Energy Information Association, coal production dropped 17% from 2015 to 2016, and US coal exports have declined drastically as well. For now, the US relies on coal.
“If you want 24/7 dependable reliable power, then you have to have something that will make power 24-7 rain or shine,” said WV Senator (D) Joe Manchin.
Energy expert Barry Worthington says countries throughout the Middle East are looking for US coal.
“US coal conceivably could be competitive in all of those countries and if we can help them facilitate building additional coal-fired power plants then that would open up and create additional markets for US coal,” Worthington said.
For coal to make a comeback, there needs to be a change though.
“We can use it much cleaner if the federal government would work with us as a partner, and find ways to take the CO2 out,” said Manchin.
Earlier this year, President Trump signed legislation which rolled back coal regulations while promising an increase in jobs, but some experts say West Virginia shouldn’t limit their energy options.
“Natural gas will be advancing also and perhaps becoming more efficient, less expensive, so it’s going to give even more competition to coal in the very near future,” said George Washington University Professor Rachael Jonassen.
“If there’s oil resources develop them, if there’s natural gas resources develop them,” Worthington explained. “Wind should be prime in West Virginia because of the mountains. Solar is going to be limited but why not develop it to the extent that it’s economic.”
Senator Capito says generating renewable energy will lead to job growth, “Whether it’s renewable or in coal, I think we can’t put all of our eggs in the coal basket, we’ve done that before. It’s time to sort of broaden out. I think renewable energy jobs are just as welcome as coal jobs.”
Moving forward, Capito believes Congress will continue to find ways to harvest and use clean coal.