Some say Trump’s order to rescind Clean Power Plan won’t stop changing power market

March 30, 2017 GMT

Local and statewide reaction to President Donald Trump’s executive order Tuesday to roll back numerous measures of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan was divided between industry and environmental lines.But some on both sides of the argument said they believed the order wouldn’t do much for an industry that is subject to market forces that in the last decade have swung in favor of cleaner, cheaper natural gas, particularly for power generation.The comments, which came from a wide swath of interest groups and individuals include the following: The Clean Power PA Coalition: “President Trump’s order to roll back the Clean Power plan is a direct assault on the health and well-being of current and future generations of Pennsylvanians,” the coalition said in a press release. “When fully implemented, the plan is expected to prevent 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children and 300,000 missed work and school days per year, nationwide. The social costs of the carbon pollution driving climate change are significant for Pennsylvania families, businesses and consumers.” Murray Energy Corp. St. Clairsville, Ohio,-based Murray, the largest underground coal mining company in the U.S., hailed the executive order, stating in its press release that Trump’s action to rescind “the Obama Administration’s illegal and destructive so-called Clean Power Plan and certain anti-coal regulations” which the company said “threatened to completely destroy the United States coal industry, and unconstitutionally usurp the rights of the states, for no environmental benefit whatsoever.”“We are extremely pleased that President Trump has, once again, followed through on his promise to preserve coal jobs and low cost electricity in the United States.” Brian Aiello, spokesman for Consol Energy Inc., which operates the country’s largest underground coal mine on the border of Greene and Washington counties, said the company was supporting the statement provided Tuesday by Rachel Gleason, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.She stated that Trump’s action targets “the over-reaching regulation that has been in judicial limbo since early last year.“Subject to an unprecedented stay by the United States Supreme Court in early 2016 on the questions of legal and statutory authority, the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance has continually voiced its opposition to the regulation, which would have destroyed economies in coal communities across Pennsylvania and threatened energy independence.“Gleason noted that coal-fired generation is nearly a third of Pennsylvania’s electric market, and the coal industry provides more than 30,000 direct and indirect jobs, contributing over $2 billion annually in labor incomes to the state’s economy and $4 billion overall.But others said rescinding the CPP’s directives won’t help the coal industry’s decline as a result of market forces that have already moved the power generation industry toward natural gas-fired generation projects. Veronica Coptis, executive director for the Center for Coalfield Justice: “The Clean Power Plan was designed to provide resources for coalfield communities that would help diversify our economy in order to protect us from a declining coal market,” Coptis said in an e-mail. “Rolling back the Clean Power Plan will not change market forces and will not bring back jobs, but instead will put environmental justice communities like ours here in Washington and Greene counties at greater risk from the increasing impacts of climate change while cutting funding meant to support job creation and economic development here.“At least one former coal miner was skeptical that Trump’s order would have much impact on major mining operations here. Greene County Commissioner Blair Zimmerman, who worked as a coal miner for 40 years, said Wednesday he was doubtful of the impact the executive orders will have on the region, noting the state Department of Environmental Protection still has regulatory powers over mining activities.“I don’t know what it’s going to do for the county,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t look for it to do anything major. Time will tell, but for now, I don’t look for any changes in the industry.“Zimmerman said it was possible the orders might help “dog hole” mines that employ fewer than 70 workers, but larger mines in the county would largely be unaffected.He pointed to the increasing use of natural gas power plants and the decommissioning in recent years of coal-fired generation, including Hatfield’s Ferry in Monongahela Township.“Are we going to see new coal mines pop up? No, because they need coal-fired power plants … and the Hatfield site isn’t going to open back up (as a coal-fired power plant),” Zimmerman said referring to a New Jersey company’s proposal to redevelop the site to build a natural gas power plant.On Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy released a graphic showing that U.S. coal production increased slightly in the second half of 2016 when compared to 2015, with most of the gain coming from western coal mines.But the DOE’s longer-term historical view of coal use points to a significant decline. In January, the department noted that as the nation’s power companies switch fuels, “the amount of coal in the national energy generation mix (both in the fuels and electricity generation categories) has declined by 53 percent since 2006.” It said that over the same period, electricity generation from natural gas increased 33 percent.Even if coal does makes a resurgence with the Trump administration, Zimmerman said those policies could be short-lived with another presidential election just four years away.“Do (companies) want to invest millions or billions in them if Mr. Trump leaves office in four or eight years?” Zimmerman said. “If I’m a businessman, I say no. There’s too much uncertainty.“Regional editor Mike Jones contributed to this report.