(Emily Larsen, Liberty Headlines) President Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke have signed several executive orders to free up access to coal on federal lands, reversing orders from the previous administration.
Republican politicians and free-market think tank scholars have applauded the moves, but industry executives say the deregulation won’t spur immediate changes in coal production or profits.
Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell imposed a moratorium on leasing any additional federal lands for coal mining and production, just days before President Trump took office.
In addition to reversing the moratorium, the executive orders confirm the removal of regulations on hydraulic fracking from the Bureau of Land Management, and direct BLM, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct reviews on oil and gas regulations and climate change policies.
Western Congressional Caucus members in the House applauded moves by President Trump and the administration to roll back regulations that stifle coal production on public lands.
“Around 40 percent of coal production occurs on public lands,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) in a press release. “We don’t need stifling restrictions—we need more responsible and efficient coal production to help get people back to work and our economy back on track.”
Restrictions on coal mining aren’t the only thing standing in the way of prosperity for coal miners and energy companies. Many companies don’t believe this wave of deregulation is enough to consider changing the types of energy production in which to invest resources and infrastructure.
“At the end of the day, coal will still have to compete with a host of other fuels,” Rick Curtsinger, a spokesman for Cloud Peak Energy, told CNBC. “Utilities’ long-term decisions are based on economics and the need for long-term certainty.”
Nicholas K. Akins, chief executive of American Electric Power, said his company doesn’t plan to change course due to the Trump administration’s executive orders.
“Our plans remain the same,” he told CNBC. “We’re going to invest over the next three years $1.5 billion in renewables, $9 billion in transmission to optimize the grid. This industry is moving in a direction that really moves toward a clean energy economy. That’s what our customers expect; That’s what our shareholders expect.”
A Reuters analysis found that these executive orders might not even have a great effect on companies that focus on mining coal on federal lands. Those companies have enough coal on existing leases to last for 17 years with 2015 sales levels.
The Reuters analysis also noted that coal accounts for about a third of U.S. electricity production, down from about half a decade ago.
Although the economic impact from deregulation might not be immediately significant for energy companies, environmental experts at the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank, were quick to note the massive economic costs from the Obama-era regulations.
“President Trump’s executive order directing EPA to suspend, revise, or rescind President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is a good first step in restoring sanity to American energy policy,” said Isaac Oor, research fellow for energy and environment policy at the Heartland Institute, at the organization’s annual conference on climate change.
“Despite costing up to $39 billion and resulting in 68,000 people losing their jobs in the manufacturing sector each year, EPA’s own analysis showed the CPP would reduce potential future global warming only by 0.019 degrees C by 2100 – an amount too small to be accurately measured by even the most sophisticated scientific equipment. This means the Clean Power Plan hurts American workers for no measurable environmental gain,” said Oor.
Several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, and a Montana Native American tribe quickly filed lawsuits in federal court to block Trump’s deregulation.
“Reinstating coal leasing before fixing what’s wrong with this program is like letting a patient leave the hospital before needed surgery,” said Chase Huntley, climate and program director for The Wilderness Society, in a press release. “It does not make sense, especially when there is so little demand for more coal right now.”