Trump buggy whips
by Tom Sullivan
Economic pedants enjoy using buggy whips as an example of a technology that has simply run its course. But like pundits who still red-bait decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, supporters of the U.S. coal industry cannot let it go.
A German commission announced last weekend it would shut down "all 84 of its coal-fired power plants over the next 19 years" to keep its international commitments to reduce climate-warming CO2 emissions. The country recently had been lagging in reduction efforts, reported the Los Angeles Times:
“This is an historic accomplishment,” said Ronald Pofalla, chairman of the 28-member government commission, at a news conference in Berlin following a marathon 21-hour negotiating session that concluded at 6 a.m. Saturday. The breakthrough ended seven months of wrangling. “It was anything but a sure thing. But we did it,” Pofalla said. “There won’t be any more coal-burning plants in Germany by 2038.”Environmentalists nonetheless staged a protest to demand a phase-out by 2030.
The plan to eliminate coal-burning plants as well as nuclear means that Germany will be counting on renewable energy to provide 65% to 80% of the country’s power by 2040. Last year, renewables overtook coal as the leading source and now account for 41% of the country’s electricityAnd what of Team USA? The sitting president prefers buggy whips. Donald Trump believes in the heavy industries of his youth, writes Catherine Rampell. "To Trump, any difficulties such sectors face are national tragedies whose reversal demands re-rigging the rest of the economy, regardless of cost," Rampell writes in the Washington Post. Plus, he needs to placate blue-collar supporters in coal-mining states.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical agency within the Energy Department, just released its annual energy outlook. Lo and behold, it forecasts a 21 percent decline in coal production over the next 20 years. Astoundingly, as the Financial Times points out, that’s an even steeper decline than the agency estimated a mere two years ago — which was back when President Barack Obama’s big, bad, coal-killing Clean Power Plan was still expected to go into effect.Coal's main challenge is not regulation, but competition from newer technologies. Hydraulic fracturing technologies have improved. Natural gas is a cheaper alternative to coal, one other nations may soon exploit, advises Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. Solar and wind power per megawatt-hour are both already cheaper than coal. Prices continue to fall for renewables while the cost of coal-fired electricity has not moved since 2017. Coal-fired plants are no longer competitive, with 15 percent of capacity projected for retirement between 2018 and 2024.
People in coal (and steel) country are losing jobs and a way of life to changing technology, not just to climate change. Maybe they would be better off if the president were more help finding them a new one.
As always, a lie.— Peter W. Singer (@peterwsinger) January 28, 2019
The actual data here on how
"a year after Trump slapped tariffs on imported steel, the U.S. steel industry is not thriving. It is reeling. Steel prices have fallen back to pre-tariff levels. Employment is stagnant" and stock prices fell:https://t.co/UjJCp5nm2D