The coal industry has been on a bumpy ride in recent years. The industry has seen a wave of bankruptcies and mine closures in the face of falling demand and efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Jobs losses in the industry have led to economic devastation in already struggling communities across eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, and southwestern Virginia.
Bringing back coal mining jobs and reviving the coal industry is at the top of President Donald Trump’s energy agenda. But it is unclear whether the federal government has the power to disrupt a complex set of trends that have to do with market forces and technology, in addition to regulations.
This brief first looks at the current state of the U.S. coal industry. It then discusses a variety of trends that have impacted the coal industry over the past several decades as well as in the last few years. While environmental regulations have certainly played a part, this brief argues that there are other, likely stronger influences at work. The brief closes by discussing the outlook for coal’s future.