By Luke Popovich
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” said Wordsworth after the French king was deposed. In the wee hours of November 9, in coal communities across the country, many miners would have felt it if they didn’t recite it.
Bliss it surely was after results were announced of the most improbable presidential election in recent history. Now the industry itself was alive. Donald Trump, the just-elected president who vowed to revive the coal industry, would soon replace a president who vowed to bankrupt it.
Coal’s savior ends up being a Manhattan billionaire. No wonder this election befuddled most everyone.
The election’s implications are less befuddling than the election returns. Start with implications for coal. As the National Mining Association’s (NMA) CEO Hal Quinn put it, “voter sentiment is clearly at odds with current U.S. policies that hinder the use of the nation’s world-leading coal reserve.” Further proof came from a post-election poll by NMA showing 67% of voters favored using coal over other fossil fuels.
Here in Washington, the post-election handwriting on the wall triggered a different reaction. From the administration, and from environmental activists vested in its regulatory agenda, the dread recalled late empire Romans trembling before barbarians at the gate. This was predictable. In no policy arena are changes likely to be more dramatic than in energy and the environment simply because in no area are the differences between the candidates so sharply drawn.
Some observers were quick — maybe too quick — to see in the election results a wholesale repudiation of the White House climate change mantra, a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s legacy. More certain is that voters changed the climate in Washington. De-carbonizing the economy has yielded to concerns about de-industrializing the economy and its high-wage jobs. Doubling down on coal regulations is out, doubling down on coal is in. The president who boasted of using his pen to regulate the industry now yields to a president who promised to use his pen to void those regulations. States may be winners, too. An administration that muscled in on state authority will likely be succeeded by one that gives states more customary deference.
Still, after the flush of victory, it’s never too soon for the winners to start adjusting expectations. Undoing regulations, some ensnared in litigation, is seldom easy even when the party of change controls the White House and the Congress. For one thing, every incoming administration is thrown into the deep end of the pool; none get to wade in. There will be high priorities and low priorities even among the priority list of wrongs that need to be righted. In this case, among the high priorities will likely be tax reform, wholesale changes in the (no longer) Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank. Each has powerful reform advocates.
But with this caution, there is a basket of deplorable regulations and executive actions that coal would expect to see dealt with soon. Start with removing the moratorium on federal coal leases, which can be accomplished with the stroke of a pen. If the administration decides in its waning days to issue a final Stream Protection Rule, legislation passed within 60 days by simple majorities in both houses of Congress could void it, assuming no presidential veto. Failing that, the administration could withdraw it for important “modifications.”
Then there is the Clean Power Plan (CPP), now awaiting the verdict of the D.C. Circuit Court. If industry’s objections are upheld, don’t expect the new Department of Justice to appeal it. Not after the president-elect called the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory overreach “a disgrace.” And if the court sends the CPP back to the agency for revision, a weaker rule is likely to emerge — sometime.
“Think about the laid-off coal workers now who see relief coming,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Finally, someone in the White House is.
Luke Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.