Bringing jobs back to levels anywhere near the sector’s heyday, however, may be a promise impossible to keep. Trump can free coal companies from the burden of environmental regulations. He can open federal lands for mining. But stoking fresh demand for the fossil fuel in an era of cheap, bountiful shale gas will be key, analysts at the CERAWeek by IHS Markit energy conference said in a Thursday panel. Even if that were to happen, the link between U.S. coal production and jobs started fraying decades ago when companies developed technologies to mine more tons with fewer workers.
“The largest coal employment losses have been concentrated in the production areas of the U.S. that are the least efficient,” said Robert Godby, a professor of energy economics at the University of Wyoming. “We could see an increase of coal production and still see a decrease in coal jobs.”