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Is the coal industry really roaring back to life under Trump?

The Navajo Generating Station. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)
The Navajo Generating Station. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

In his speech, President Trump said he had promised that "dying industries will come roaring back to life" – and then highlighted the boost he gave one such industry by blocking an environmental regulation “that threatens the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners.”

The move Trump referred to stopped an environmental rule meant to protect streams from pollution stemming from mining.

But while coal companies cheered Trump's decision, it underscored how little power he has to bring back the bulk of the coal jobs he promised in his campaign.

Environmental regulations are not the main problem killing the coal industry – the realities of the energy market and cheap natural gas are. And Trump can do little to change that.

That much was clear this month when operators of the biggest coal plant in the West, the Navajo Generating Station, announced they can no longer afford to keep it going. The planned closure by 2019 of the plant near Page, Ariz., will likely mean the loss of hundreds of coal-related jobs in a region that badly needs work.

Community leaders demanded that the Trump administration step in with a plan to save them. But the owners of the plant say relief from environmental regulations is not what they need.

A bailout plan would require heavy federal subsidies, which doesn’t square with Trump’s calls to get government out of the business of propping up troubled energy companies – like the failed Solyndra solar plant the Obama administration backed – that can’t stand on their own.

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