It was always obvious that Donald Trump would never be able to keep his promise – made both as candidate and president – that he would bring coal jobs back to battered mining communities.
Despite a long-standing campaign by the coal industry to blame the industry’s decline on President Obama’s environmental policies, the primary drivers of that decline have been economic, the most important being the low cost of natural gas.
Nonetheless, Trump made his pledge to coal country. And it found a receptive audience, particularly in Appalachia, where the industry’s collapse has resulted in severe economic hardship.
Trump’s message could not have come at a worse time, giving false hope to laid-off coal miners, and the communities where they live and work, at a juncture when many of them had finally accepted the reality that their jobs weren’t coming back – and were embarking on the hard but necessary course of diversifying their local economies.
Here’s the hard truth after a full year of Trump’s presidency, starting with the jobs. Government data for 2017 shows that more states lost coal mine jobs than gained them; nationally, the number of these jobs increased by only a few hundred, and the total remains less than one-third the level of the mid-1980s.