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How Much Can The Repeal Of The Clean Power Plan Help The Declining Coal Industry?


The coal industry is cheering the Trump administration's move to repeal the Clean Power Plan. That was President Obama's signature effort to address climate change. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt formally started that process today. But as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, it is not clear how much that will help an industry in decline.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Getting rid of the Clean Power Plan was one of President Trump's biggest promises. Here he is campaigning in West Virginia last year.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm thinking about the miners all over this country. We're going to put the miners back to work. We're going to put the miners back to work.


LUDDEN: Since taking office Trump has helped the coal industry, pushing to repeal some Obama-Era regulations that had not yet taken effect - starting a regulatory process to roll back others. But Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Association says this is the big one.

CHRIS HAMILTON: You know, I think that signifies, in grand fashion, that the war on coal is over.

LUDDEN: The Clean Power Plan aimed to cut carbon emissions from power plants by a third by 2030. More than two dozen states filed suit to stop the plan, and it never took effect. But coal industry officials say it still led many utilities to shift to natural gas or renewable power. Since 2008, coal share of electricity has plummeted from half to less than a third as dozens of plants have closed and thousands of jobs were cut. Today the mayor of Gillette, Wyo., Louise Carter-King welcomed good news for a change.

LOUISE CARTER-KING: Just for optimism, it's a shot in the arm here for the industry.

LUDDEN: But a shot in the arm is not the same as bringing jobs back.

JEREMY RICHARDSON: What we're finding is that the Clean Power Plan is going to have zero impact.

LUDDEN: Jeremy Richardson is with the Union of Concerned Scientists, which supports policies to address climate change. In a new analysis, it finds the decline of coal is ongoing.

RICHARDSON: Basically, more than one-third of the nation's coal-fired electricity is either already slated to go offline or it's more expensive to operate than existing natural gas.

LUDDEN: The coal industry has had trouble competing with the rise of cheap natural gas in recent years. And the cost of wind and solar has also come way down. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says dumping the Clean Power Plan will save industry $33 billion in compliance costs. But environmental groups are questioning the administration's cost-benefit calculations. Among other things, they accuse it of understating how much reducing carbon emissions improves public health. Several environmental groups and several states say they plan to challenge today's repeal.

In West Virginia, the Coal Association's Chris Hamilton says his industry will likely never get back all the jobs it's lost. And he won't guess the exact impact of repealing the Clean Power Plan. But Hamilton, who endorsed Trump during his campaign, believes the president can help in other ways by reviving manufacturing, he says, and steel production and renegotiating trade deals.

HAMILTON: And then you'll have more people working. You'll have more power being consumed. And thus more, miners will be able to go to work.

LUDDEN: So more promises for the president to keep for an industry that's watching - Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.