President Trump has painted himself as the savior of America’s coal industry and the countless miners who have been crushed by its demise.
“For those miners, get ready because you’re going to be working your asses off,” Trump said in a May 2016 speech in front of a crowd holding up “Trump digs coal” signs.
While Trump has moved to rip up regulations burdening the coal industry, his most senior economic aide doesn’t look like he’s jumping on the coal train.
“Coal doesn’t even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock,” Gary Cohn said, aboard Air Force One on Thursday, referring to raw materials that get converted into a fuel.
Cohn, who serves as director of the White House National Economic Council, instead praised natural gas as “such a cleaner fuel” — and one that America has become an “abundant producer of.”
While Trump rarely talks up the potential of renewable energy, Cohn sounds like a fan.
“If you think about how solar and how much wind power we’ve created in the United States, we can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly,” Cohn said.
Cohn’s comments stand out, but not because they are inaccurate. They jive with what energy experts have been saying for some time. It’s just that Cohn’s comments sound like ones that were written by President Obama’s speechwriters, not Trump’s.
The White House didn’t respond to questions about whether Cohn’s remarks signal a shift in Trump’s energy and environmental policies.
Cohn’s words are especially significant, because Trump is expected to soon decide whether to keep the U.S. in the Paris climate accord, which is forcing governments in many countries to crack down on the carbon emissions from coal and other fossil fuels. World leaders, Democrats and some major companies have urged Trump not to ditch the landmark deal that represents the most significant effort to date to combat climate change.
“He’s heard arguments that are persuasive on both sides. They’re both good arguments,” Cohn said about the Paris accord.
Trump’s love for coal helped his vote totals in the Rust Belt that carried him to victory last November. It didn’t help that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, badmouthed coal by promising to “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
By contrast, Trump followed through on his promise to end Obama’s “war on coal” by signing an executive order in March that started undoing the last administration’s signature efforts on climate change.
The problem is that Trump’s deregulation push is unlikely to bring about the coal renaissance he wants. That’s because coal’s dramatic downfall has come not from regulations, but has been driven by market forces, especially the abundance of cheap natural gas.
An in-depth study by Columbia University concluded that “Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will not materially improve economic conditions in America’s coal communities.”
The academics urged Trump to focus on ways to retrain coal workers and safeguard their health benefits instead of offering “false hope that the glory days can be revived.”