President Donald Trump hammered home a message of economic prosperity during his State of the Union address. As Trump told it, the economy is soaring, fewer Americans are on food stamps and unemployment is at an all-time low.
A big part of that economic growth, as Trump describes it, is a “revolution in American energy.”
“The United States is now the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world,” Trump told Congress last night. “And now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy.”
And what about coal? Trump didn’t mention it once during his address.
What was once one of Trump’s favorite talking points as a candidate — “beautiful, clean coal,” as Trump repeatedly said during the 2016 campaign — was entirely absent from his speech Tuesday night. Gone were lines about his effort to end the “war” on coal the Obama administration waged that were in his 2018 address to Congress.
The omission is perhaps a small indication of the large difficulty the Trump administration has had trying to revive the struggling U.S. coal sector.
The Energy Department’s plan to subsidize hurting coal plants at the behest of Trump campaign booster and coal baron Robert Murray never got off the ground. Despite the rollback of some air-pollution rules extending the life of some coal facilities, the closure of coal plants nationwide has continued apace during Trump’s presidency — with 16 gigawatts of coal-fired power going offline in 2018, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Cheaper forms of electricity generation that include natural gas, solar and wind energy are replacing coal. The result is that total coal consumption last year in the United States was projected to plunge to its lowest level in 40 years.
That shift from coal to natural gas is even happening in the heart of historic coal country. Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia appeared to be one of the only, if not the only, Democrat who stood and clapped when Trump boasted about booming gas production.
Indeed, Trump correctly stated that the United States is the top oil and gas producer globally — though that has been true since 2012. The boom has more to do with the development of new extraction technologies, like hydraulic fracturing, than it has to do with any more recent Trump administration policy.
And the president spoke too soon when claiming the nation is already a net energy exporter, though he still captured the general industry trend. The Energy Information Administration, an independent agency in the Energy Department, said just last week that the United States will reach that status in 2020 for the first time in nearly seven decades. So that means that at the moment, the United States still imports more energy than it sends aboard.
Oil and gas industry representatives praised the president’s speech while attempting to tie Trump’s push for an infrastructure bill in Congress to easing the permitting process for new pipelines.
“Expanding natural gas infrastructure is essential to improving our environment and growing our economy,” said Don Santa, president and chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America.
Liberal advocacy groups, meanwhile, bemoaned Trump’s failure to address climate change at all during his speech.
“Trump tried to erase climate change from tonight’s State of the Union, but you can’t erase a global crisis,” Greenpeace USA chief Annie Leonard said. “Bragging about oil and gas production when global scientists are basically shouting from the rooftops to stop drilling and stop fracking is denial at its most dangerous level.”