The CEO of America’s largest privately-owned coal mining company has contradicted President Donald Trump with regard to his promises while on the campaign trail — and more recently in Louisville, Kentucky — to bring back the coal mining industry and coal mining jobs, saying that the president might want to “temper” his comments on coal’s return, because, simply put, the mining jobs are not coming back. Robert Murray, the founder and chief executive of Murray Energy, said in a recent interview that most of the jobs lost in the coal mining industry had succumbed to increased mechanization and competition, factors that will not return simply by doing away with government regulations.
Murray told the Guardian that he was optimistic about the coal industry’s future, but as far as jobs were concerned, they weren’t coming back. The 77-year-old CEO said that he met with President Trump in February and presented a plan designed to rejuvenate the coal industry and make it more competitive in the energy market. However, he does not believe coal mining jobs are coming back.
“I suggested that he temper his expectations,” Murray said of his meeting with Trump. “Those are my exact words. He can’t bring them back.”
Along with his message in the Rust Belt that he would bring back manufacturing jobs, Donald Trump as a 2016 presidential candidate promised that he would bring back coal mining jobs to coal country. Receptive audiences in West Virginia, Kentucky, and other parts of coal-rich Appalachia became voters who actually went to the polls and cast ballots, handing Trump an overwhelming victory in coal mining territory.
But receptive ears and hopes that a new president could alter the downward spiraling coal industry might have been desperate wishful thinking. Employment in the coal industry has dropped a precipitous since the 1970s, as statistics from the Mine Safety and Health Administration show. Although Trump and Robert Murray agree that regulations imposed on the industry during the Obama administration crippled it, coal mining jobs decreased by 30,000 in the past eight years. But those numbers come at the end of a long drop.
During the 1970s, coal mining jobs numbered a quarter of a million. By 2008, half of those jobs were gone. And although regulations have impacted employment, the culprits most responsible for the loss of over 150,000 jobs over the years were increased mechanization, the extraction of coal with cheaper methods (mountain topping and surface mining, for example), and the competition of cleaner fuels like natural gas.
In fact, Dimitry Jean-Laurent wrote in the Andover Political Review in February that natural gas was the coal industry’s killer. Jean-Laurent pointed out that President Trump might be able to generate a few jobs for the industry, but a revival of Big Coal was not going to happen. Overall coal production is down and has been decreasing for years, due to increased dependence on easily extracted natural gas and the increase in reliance on renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar power). In fact, Jean-Laurent posited that Trump’s crusade against government regulations, especially those in the energy industries, could have an opposite effect as far as generating new coal mining jobs are concerned. Trump’s promised deregulation of the natural gas industry is predicted to only help build its dominance in its share of the energy market.
Whether President Trump understands or agrees with the mining statistics is unclear, but the trend downward continues to be addressed by the president in the form of the promise of new jobs or the return of old jobs lost.
Last week in Louisville, Kentucky, Trump told his audience (per Reuters), “As we speak, we are preparing new executive actions to save our coal industry and to save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work. The miners are coming back.”
And even though Robert Murray does not agree that the coal mining jobs will return, it is not the same as believing something can be done for the flagging coal industry itself. He believes that the change in administrations and with an emphasis on deregulation, President Trump can help revive the coal industry.
“I would not say it’s a good time in the coal industry. It’s a better time,” Murray said. “Politically it’s much better.”
As for those coal mining jobs in West Virginia and Kentucky? Unfortunately, the consensus, from industry leaders to expert analysis, is that the jobs will not be coming back.
[Featured Image by Pool/Getty Images]