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King Coal is no more

Wednesday, Mar 29, 2017

* According to this SJ-R story, coal industry employment in Illinois last year was 3,600. Natural gas is a big price competitor, of course, and the coal industry has greatly enhanced its productivity, so employment will never recover its losses since 1990, when the industry employed 10,000 people here

Even if coal sales improve, mining techniques require ever fewer miners for increased production. The 3,600 miners required to produce 43.3 million tons of Illinois coal in 2016 was approximately the same number required to produce 33.4 million tons in 2010, according to coal association figures.

Meanwhile, according to the article, Illinois had 3,700 jobs in the solar industry alone last year, up 7 percent from the year before. And then there’s all those wind power jobs.

* Tribune News Service

President Donald Trump campaigned on putting coal miners back to work, and on Tuesday, he gave the impression he was delivering. But he wasn’t.

Trump rolled back Obama administration regulations considered detrimental to the industry. But the president’s actions will bring minimal benefit to the coal-producing regions that helped him win the White House, according to the government’s own projections.

At best, according to government data, coal production will increase by about 5 million tons a year by 2040 out of 800 million tons overall under Trump’s order.

Not all coal-producing regions will see an increase. Western and Appalachian coal are still forecast to decline. Only Illinois Basin coal will increase over time.

That’s a mere 0.6 percent production gain over 23 years - at best - although Illinois will apparently do slightly better.

* As another article points out, it’ll now be easier to open mines, but the industry still faces serious market challenges.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Gruntled University Employee - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 11:49 am:

    In 1974 my first grade class had 117 kids in it, in 1986 we graduated 42. What happened in between? A combination of the local coal mine shutting down and a reduction, through automation, in employees at the local chemical company. This has been going on longer than most want to admit. My class was cut by more than half in 12 years, 4 of those years presided over by the great Ronald Regan.

  2. - Sir Reel - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 11:50 am:

    As with most of Trump’s cons, this’ll never pan out. Technology, substitutes, and other factors will not deliver the jobs he promised.

    Instead of pursuing jobs in new industries, he’s trying to resurrect dying industries.

    As he would say, sad.

  3. - Anyone Remember - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 12:02 pm:

    At one point, natural gas prices were so low Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad (owned by Warren Buffett) was looking into converting their locomotives from diesel to natural gas. As long as the price of natural gas is that low, coal will struggle.

  4. - PublicServant - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 12:04 pm:

    And instead of the United States leading the world in renewable energy r&d, we’re now ceding that position to China. Heck of a job, Trumpy.

  5. - Mama - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 12:22 pm:

    Wow! That is almost 7,000 jobs lost over the last 30 years.

    Does anyone know how many factory jobs have been lost due to automation?

  6. - Brian - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 12:27 pm:

    More proof that automation and the free market (cheap natural gas) have cost more coal jobs than tree-hugging environmentalists.

  7. - JohnnyPyleDriver - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 12:29 pm:

    What’s the evidence for the claim in the article that regulation is responsible for more job loss than natural gas and automation?

  8. - Collinsville Kevin - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 12:51 pm:

    Some of my ancestors spent time in the coal mines (or Peabody U. as they jokingly called it), this after farming all day. They sure didn’t want their sons to have to do the same. This would be such a wonderful time for the government to promote renewables and try to grow those jobs rather than going down this ridiculous Trumpian path. Sad.

  9. - train111 - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 1:09 pm:

    If Trump were around in the early 1900’s, he’d be promising horse drawn carriage drivers that he’d be bringing their jobs back too.
    There’s scholarly studies that state the same thing would be happening with West Virginia coal whether we have regulations are not. The easy to get at coal is gone. It cost more to mine the harder to get at coal. It’s like Gogebic Range iron ore in Upper Michigan - lots of it. Is it economical to mine? Nope not at all.
    Any growth will be with Powder River out in Wyoming and Montana.

  10. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 1:14 pm:

    We would be wise to focus our efforts where job growth will be or should be. Many jobs that exist now will not 10 years from now.

    That’s why the Rauner “agenda” is so backwards. Gutting continuing vocational education opportunitiies while selling snake oil of “dozens of manufacturers lined up” if we adopt Mississippi labor standards.

    It’s the cluelessness of a reactionary dilletante, supported by nothing. That’s why he doesn’t even try to back up his claims with any data or facts whatsoever.

  11. - Stand Tall - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 1:21 pm:

    I am all for getting off fossil fuels but to think that necessary regulations weren’t a huge reason for the decline of coal is kind a ridiculous. From the 70’s to now the regulations placed on coal mines and coal generated power plants have been the main factor in the cost of doing business in coal cost going up and being less competitive.

  12. - Going nuclear - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 1:22 pm:

    Not much Trump can do to revive the coal industry in a big way. In addition to the low prices for natural gas and falling prices for renewables undercutting coal’s share of the electricity market, most utilities and power companies are taking the long view and diversifying their energy generation mix. They know carbon emissions will eventually be regulated or taxed. A good example is American Electric Power, once one of the largest coal generators in the country. It plans to develop wind and solar projects totaling 900 megawatts over the next two years. Fortune 500 companies like Walmart, Cargill, Unilever and DuPont are also investing heavily in renewables and efficiency because they realize climate change will be bad for the economy.

  13. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 2:16 pm:

    Industry and money will play the long game here. Few will want to bet on a deregulation that is not likely to last, as well as market forces that do not look favorable. Bottom line…it might buy a few coal-fired plants a few years before being mothballed, but there’s no incentive to build a new one in the near or long term’s market. Many industries have gone the way of the telegraph and the buggy whip, and some have been over-promoted before the time was ripe. It’ll sort itself out mostly due to forces beyond a politician or two or three’s control.

  14. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 2:42 pm:

    ===From the 70’s to now the regulations placed on coal mines and coal generated power plants have been the main factor in the cost of doing business in coal cost going up and being less competitive.===

    Those are the same regulations that cleaned up the air and ended acid rain. Ever see a picture of the smog in China? Who should pay for the externality that is pollution?

    Yes, clean air regulations made coal unprofitable. It was that or try to live with air that was unbreatheable. Sorry, but that is the nature of coal. It is dirty.

  15. - City Zen - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 3:44 pm:

    In other energy news, Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy today:

  16. - very old soil - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 3:59 pm:

    Today’s Washington Post: “Industry experts say coal mining jobs will continue to be lost, not because of blocked access to coal, but because power plant owners are turning to natural gas. At least 40 plants that rely on coal are projected to close during the president’s four-year term.”

  17. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 5:01 pm:

    I don’t want to listen to a group of people, who just 8 years ago were claiming that we couldn’t drill our way out of our gas and oil shortage.

    The supposed experts were wrong then, and they’ve never admitted today that they were wrong. So blow off, until you regain your credibility.

    Geniuses - none of ya!

  18. - Power House Prowler - Wednesday, Mar 29, 17 @ 9:32 pm:

    Coal mining, coal transportation, coal delivery, coal fired power station. Just too much work, too much labor cost,too many breakdowns. Natural gas delivers itself. No soot, and minimal maintenance.

  19. - Grandson of Man - Thursday, Mar 30, 17 @ 8:09 am:

    We should be moving toward the future by expanding on clean energy. Climate change or not, we should try to make a world that’s as clean as possible. I remember the pollution of old, with the air being dirtier than today.

    We in Chicago stopped using coal for our homes a long time ago. We had a coal chute (remember those?), coal furnace and a big pile of coal next to it. It was pretty dirty.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

* Reader comments closed until Tuesday
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Tribune asked 16 mayoral candidates to release tax returns, 6 complied
* A rough idea of what they're looking at
* Question of the day: Golden Horseshoe Awards
* Rauner was wrong about "record levels" of unionization
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Stava-Murray updates
* Pritzker's inauguration ball tix will benefit Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic and Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation
* Rauner claims he's been too busy to reflect on his term
* Pritzker's day in DC
* *** UPDATED x3 - Morrison wants emergency meeting of ILGOP - McConnaughay explains - Schneider responds *** Rauner says he tried to drop out of race after primary
* Feds re-raid Ald. Burke's office
* Yesterday's stories

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