All of President Trump’s declarations of the end to the “war on coal” can’t help the coal industry. It’s not regulation that’s killing these companies; it’s the fact that other forms of energy are much cheaper. Witness the fall of western Kentucky coal company Armstrong Energy.
That company joins numerous others that have collapsed due to low demand, brought on mostly by cheap natural gas. And that cheap natural gas comes because of what experts call the “shale revolution,” which has caused the decline in U.S. coal production since 2011, according to an analysis from Columbia University.
Armstrong plans to use the bankruptcy to transfer the ownership of its five mines and other operations to a new entity owned by Knight Hawk Holdings LLC, and some of Armstrong Energy’s noteholders, according to Fox Business.
The cost of natural gas has dropped 71 percent between 2008 and 2016, primarily due to successful fracking operations. The report also said that coal prices fell only 8 percent in the same time span.
As a result, power plants have been converting from coal to natural gas, and others have begun using more renewable energy.
“Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will not materially improve economic conditions in America’s coal communities,” the authors of the analysis said.
Despite the celebration that took place in June, when a western Pennsylvania coal mine opened up, the long-term prospects for the industry are not good.
“Him saving coal jobs was smoke and mirrors,” Andrew Cosgrove, senior analyst on global metals & mining at Bloomberg Intelligence, told CNN Money. “It was never going to happen because low natural gas prices are the main problem. That will continue to cap any upside for coal.”
Armstrong probably won’t be the last coal company to go bankrupt during the Trump years. In August, Murray Energy asked the White House to issue an emergency order protecting coal-fired power plants from being closed. He added that if the executive order wasn’t filed, his company would go bankrupt.
Although the terms of Armstrong Energy’s bankruptcy weren’t immediately available, the company’s executives have asked Judge Kathy Surratt-States for permission to keep providing healthcare coverage to workers and paying suppliers on time.
“We remain firmly committed to serving our customers and to being a good employer by maintaining safe, productive operations as we undertake this process,” Armstrong Executive Chairman J. Hord Armstrong III said in a press release.
“Responsible policymakers should be honest about what’s going on in the US coal sector—including the causes of coal’s decline and unlikeliness of its resurgence—rather than offering false hope that the glory days can be revived,” the Columbia analysts wrote.