Jan 30, 2018, 1:47 PM ET

Trump says he 'saved coal,' but industry employment remains basically stagnant

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Throughout his campaign, President Donald Trump pledged to revive coal country.

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And he insists, a year in to his term, that he has delivered on that promise: "I'm the one that saved coal," he told The New York Times in December.

The president has indeed taken steps to prop up coal mining -- an industry that's been hard hit as new technologies reduce the cost of natural gas and renewable energy.

Last March, flanked by miners, Trump signed an executive order calling for a review of Obama's Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Because of lawsuits from 27 states, the law was tied up in the courts and had not yet implemented. But the Trump administration -- arguing that the power plan could "potentially burden" the domestic production of energy like coal -- directed the EPA to scrap the plan entirely and propose a replacement.

"My administration is putting an end to the war on coal," the president declared at the E.O. signing ceremony. "Basically, you know what this is? You know what it says, right? You’re going back to work!"

PHOTO: President Donald Trump, accompanied by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, third from left, applaud as he holds up the signed Energy Independence Executive Order, March 28, 2017, at EPA headquarters in Washington.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
President Donald Trump, accompanied by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, third from left, applaud as he holds up the signed Energy Independence Executive Order, March 28, 2017, at EPA headquarters in Washington.

We haven't seen that happen -- at least, not yet.

Fiscal year-to-date, coal production has ticked up, increasing 15 percent compared to the same period last year, from 334.1 million tons to 384.1 million tons, according to the Energy Information Administration.

(Whether that's due to Trump's changes to federal policy or international market demands, like an international need for metallurgical coal used in the production of steel, remains a subject of debate.)

But we haven't seen a corresponding rise in coal jobs, which increased just 1 percent, according to federal data.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, when Trump took office in January, there were 50,000 coal mining jobs in the US; by December, that number had risen to 50,500 -- an increase of just about 500 coal mining jobs.

"We believe it is highly unlikely US coal mining employment will return to its pre-2015 levels, let alone the industry's historical highs," a report from the Columbia University forecast.

So why the disconnect between small increases in coal production and coal jobs?

It comes down to productivity, experts say.

PHOTO: A worker runs a miner machine at a coal mine in Friedens, Pa., June 7, 2017. Dake Kang/AP
A worker runs a miner machine at a coal mine in Friedens, Pa., June 7, 2017.

"As processes improve and mining gets more and more advanced, you need less and less people to do the physical work," Tim Boersma, Senior Research Scholar at the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, tells ABC. "Though there was an uptick in production, that doesn't necessarily translate into a huge increase in jobs."

These days, "it takes fewer and fewer miners to produce the same amount of coal," agreed Roger Bezdek, president of DC-based energy research consulting firm Management Information Services, who was referred to ABC by the National Coal Council.

Most industry analysts agree that it was automation and competition from other energy sources -- not burdensome regulations -- that were the primary drivers of the decline in coal industry jobs.

PHOTO: A group of coal miners listen to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during his visit to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Companys Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., April 13, 2017.Gene J. Puskar/AP
A group of coal miners listen to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during his visit to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company's Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., April 13, 2017.

Repealing stringent rules on carbon emissions might stave off closures for five to 10 years, says Boersma, but that will merely "buy time for the industry, rather than revive it."

Bezdek, for his part, says the Clean Power Plan repeal "could be significant" but acknowledges that factors beyond the president's control play a role in industry's fate.

The White House declined ABC News' request for comment.

So has the president "saved" coal?

"I think the sense among [Trump] voters is, look, he's trying," Boersma said. But "pretending that we can bring back the past is probably not the right way to go."

"He's taking credit for an awful lot," Bezdek added. "But he has made a difference in terms of morale."

News - Trump says he 'saved coal,' but industry employment remains basically stagnant

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  • duckkdownn

    I'll bet that former buggy whip manufacturers are kicking themselves that Trump wasn't around in the late 1800s.

  • Colinalcarz

    Coal is cheap and power generated from it is very profitable but renewables will surpass it in the next few years then it will be over.

  • RedSoxPatriotsCelticsBruinsFan

    We need media blitz on clean coal, how did they make it clean?

  • Pro-Marx

    Yes, let's stop the war on coal and resume the war on the environment.

  • Arryandan

    Trump is probably right, Coal Industry would have died a couple of years ago. He saved what is left.

  • carcar

    It's like the candle makers when the light bulb was invented. They better tool up, reinvent or get left behind.

  • 40acre

    -----"I'm the one that saved coal,"------------------
    That's not true, Donald....But if it was, you would not like what future historians would say about it.

  • ImWhiteWolf

    And he insists that he has delivered on that promise: "I'm the one that saved coal,"------------------

    I owe Donnie an apology. all this time I thought he was another worthless pol. what he really is, is a stunningly great comedian. the one thing that really does bother me though about him is this, is he really so deluded that he believes what he says?

  • doug harmon

    I was a boilermaker for years. I worked in coal fired power plants and helped build a lot of scrubbers with the SCR projects across America. if anyone thinks coal is or ever will be "CLEAN" then I ask them to go work in a coal fired power plant and just see for themselves how "CLEAN" it really is. trump hasn't ever been within 100 miles of a piece of Black Coal...

  • John Brown

    Stagnant employment levels - actually a remarkable achievement compared to employment falling like a rock dropped down a mine shaft. Every realist knows that any help for the remaining miners is like Dunkirk - a delaying action to help them survive until they can be relocated to someplace that allows them to make a living.

  • TH

    When trump says clean coal he is just proving his ignorance.

  • Summer Tyme

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, when Trump took office in January, there were 50,000 coal mining jobs in the US; by December, that number had risen to 50,500 -- an increase of just about 500 coal mining jobs.
    ________________________________________________________________________________________

    ^ Trump knows his cult followers can't even tell the difference between 1 million and 1 billion so they absolutely cannot process data.

    During the Obama administration the United States added almost 200 thousand jobs every single month for nearly 8 years, 96 months in a row.

    This is more jobs added every month than exists in the entire coal industry.

    In contrast there are now over 300,000 Solar jobs in America and rising.

    Yet Trump would destroy solar in a futile attempt to prop up coal.

    What a fool!

  • 12doctor

    The BIG tooter has all the trains bringing coal from the South into Indiana by my house just about non existent! All IPS is now gas fired!!

  • My Dimesworth

    I feel so sorry for these people that were sold a bill of goods by such a con man.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Okay for Wyoming which strip mines coal. Not okay for Appalachia where miners actually get black lung disease and die horribly with no insurance or pension. MAGA.

  • CatMom

    Hey Coal Miners: How's that voting for trump working out for you? Enjoying your air pollution? Thanks so much.

  • Phil2u

    I am not sure what the elected president thinks he means by having "saved coal." Someone has to buy the coal for there to be profits and he certainly has not created a market for it. I guess he missed that aspect of economics in his business courses.

  • Donnie The Lion

    Repealing stringent rules on carbon emissions might stave off closures for five to 10 years, says Boersma, but that will merely "buy time for the industry, rather than revive it."

    That has been the GOP gameplan. They never have any long-term solutions for anything.

  • Kobrakai7272

    I am going to go out on a limb and guess that Teddy Roosevelt didn't waste time trying to convince people working in the the saddlery or blacksmithing industries that he was going to save their jobs when the first Model T rolled off the assembly line... and Teddy was a guy prone to braggadocio who reveled in the public's idolatry of him. He was just also smart enough to know that change usually represents opportunity not danger.

  • unusual

    If Trump was smart, he would be supporting solar and wind power and encouraging out of work coal miners to move into those fields. But, alas, Trump is not smart.

  • Ira Cohen

    COAL IS DEAD FOLKS, It cannot and should not be saved. It is a disaster to the climate to air quality (no clean coal, sorry), and is not economically competitive. The Trump argument is a complete bombastic lie to keep his base on his side,
    Now, Trump, rather than saving coal, encourage corporations with big new tax cuts to come and invest and train these workers in alternative energy product production. We need US solar panels as you have hit foreign producers with new tariffs.
    It's 2018 not 1918 for heavens sake.

  • TexasVulcan

    There are so many more people already working in renewable energy now than in coal. Coal is dead or will soon be. It's certainly on life support. Too much CO2. Too many other issues. Even natural gas produces half the CO2 and almost none of the other pollution.

  • catmom Cook

    So.... in other words, Hillary Clinton was right . If they had listened to her, they would be trained for other work by now.

  • David

    Why even go to the effort to publish this information. Most folks pretty much guess reality is opposite of what Trump states. The others don't care. Just so tiring

  • Mikhail

    Looks like these poor guys got bamboozled!