Oct 18, 2017

Modeling Trump's coal conundrum

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Expand chart
Data: The Brattle Group; Note: Figures are for production and mining jobs for coal-fired power generation; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

An analysis by an energy-focused consultancy circulated Tuesday concludes that President Trump's sweeping push to bolster fossil fuels across the board by cutting regulations and production constraints means natural gas will likely keep and even expand its advantage over coal in electricity markets.

Why it matters: The Brattle Group's analysis, which was presented to the Energy Bar Association Tuesday, highlights a major tension running through Trump's pro-fossil fuel initiatives: Helping coal is tougher when you're supporting natural gas too.

What they examined: Brattle forecast the production and employment effect of pro-coal policies, like killing EPA's big power industry climate rule and rolling back mining regulations, in concert with the Trump administration's wider support of fossil fuels.

The bottom line: Their analysis predicts that the pro-coal efforts in isolation would indeed likely boost production of coal used for power generation and mining jobs, compared with what's expected under the baseline of Obama-era rules in the near-term (2020) and medium term (2030).

  • However, combined with policies that affect oil-and-gas producers, like making more areas available for drilling and cutting royalties, Trump's overall approach (the "pro-fossil" case in the chart above) is actually forecast to be worse for coal than the Obama policy baseline.

The gritty details: The report shows that the across-the-board support for fossil fuels will cut coal production by 220 million tons in 2020 and 210 million tons in 2030 compared with the Obama baseline, leading to net mining employment losses of 13,000-16,000 jobs.

  • Yes, but: Like any effort to predict the future, a few dollops of caution are warranted here, and the presentation notes that the findings are "preliminary results" based on "what if" scenarios.

Wild card: Those potential outcomes do not include the effect of the new Energy Department proposal to bolster revenues for coal and nuclear plants in some markets based on their "resilience and reliability" contribution to the grid.

  • Whether and how much the proposal would bolster coal-fired power generation depends on variables including gas prices and how exactly the policy would be structured under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency.

Go deeper

John Kelly defends James Mattis against Trump attacks

John Kelly in the White House in July 2017. Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly defended James Mattis on Thursday after President Trump attacked the former defense secretary as "the world's most overrated general" and claimed on Twitter that he was fired.

What he's saying: “The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation,” Kelly told the Washington Post in an interview. “The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused."

Barr claims "no correlation" between removing protesters and Trump's church photo op

Attorney General Bill Barr said at a press conference Thursday that there was "no correlation" between his decision to order police to forcibly remove protesters from Lafayette Park and President Trump's subsequent visit to St. John's Episcopal Church earlier this week.

Driving the news: Barr was asked to respond to comments from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said Tuesday that he "did not know a photo op was happening" and that he does everything he can to "try and stay out of situations that may appear political."

Updates: Cities move to end curfews for George Floyd protests

Text reading "Demilitarize the police" is projected on an army vehicle during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Washington, D.C.. early on Thursday. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Several cities are ending curfews after the protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people led to fewer arrests and less violence Wednesday night.

The latest: Los Angeles and Washington D.C. are the latest to end nightly curfews. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tweeted Wednesday night that "peaceful protests can continue without a curfew, while San Francisco Mayor London Breed tweeted that the city's curfew would end at 5 a.m. Thursday.