“I think a lot of the major media on the coasts – and I’m talking about the most influential, big dailies – don’t like Donald Trump,” says Popovich. “Donald Trump likes coal, so they don’t like coal even more than they did before Donald Trump was elected.”
As a result, Popovich says news outlets and critics of coal have been exaggerating coal’s decline in order to exaggerate the president’s failure to deliver on his promise.
“The fact is the president did say he was going to revive the coal industry, and to great extent he has succeeded,” he continues. “He’s taken it out of a death spiral for one thing.”
“We’re seeing jobs coming back,” answers the NMA spokesman. “We’re seeing mines open in states from West Virginia, Kentucky, all the way to Pennsylvania. We’ve seen coal production coming back about 20 percent year over year, coal prices have increased since last fall when the president was elected.”
Popovich says the coal industry isn’t nearly as depressed as people would think from reading major media reports.
Still, natural gas provides more of the nation’s electricity than coal. While many utilities began making the switch to comply with the Obama administration’s regulations regarding coal, natural gas is cheap, abundant, and burns cleaner than coal. It was not that long ago that coal was providing 40 to 50 percent of the nation’s electricity.
“There’s no question that natural gas has been a formidable competitor of coal and has surpassed coal for the first time in the share of power generation in for the United States,” Popovich acknowledges. “It’s going to be a struggle for coal to get much above a third.”
But he sees hope since the government has gotten “the punitive regulations off the back of coal producers so they are freer to do what they have to do to compete against natural gas and subsidized wind and solar, which are also in this power generation market.”
Popovich adds that coal can be used for things other than energy generation.
“You can’t make steel without coal,” he explains. “Coal was booming ten years ago partly because of the industrial revolution that was going on in Asia, mostly in China. They were building cities from nothing, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty with steel. That created a huge demand for metallurgical coal, which is our highest grade coal.”
That market has cooled because China’s economy is not growing as fast as it was, but Popovich says coal still remains an essential ingredient for industrialization around the world – and most of that is occurring offshore.
“Now, if the president goes through with his plan and Coness collaborates with him to build a big infrastructure program into the budget and we see bridges and roads and buildings and dams being reconstructed here in the United States, then clearly the demand for steel and presumably metallurgical coal will also increase,” Popovich says.
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