Donald Trump’s promise to revive the coal industry gives a false hope to miners who haven’t seen a paycheck in a while. Fossil fuels are on their way out and coal, being the dirtiest, is already feeling the effect. Oil will be around a while longer, but if I were a young investor, I’d be a short-term buyer of the stock. Being cleaner than coal, natural gas, once the darling of environmental groups like the Sierra Club, is now being targeted.
Methane, a by-product of natural gas production, is the reason. Methane easily escapes into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect. (“The Coming War On Gas,” by Jennifer A. Dlouhy et al, Bloomberg Businessweek, April 24-30, 2017, pgs. 51-52.) The industry has spent $10 billion developing technologies to reduce carbon emissions, but last year, because coal use is on the decline, natural gas was “responsible for more emissions than coal.” (Ibid pg. 51) Worse, storing the by-product is dangerous. In 2015, Aliso Canyon, a community near Los Angeles, had to be evacuated when a storage tank sprang a leak that ended in a blowout. (Ibid pg. 51)
Natural gas generates a third of the electrical energy in this country but several states are following the lead 200 countries, like Canada and China, and shifting to cleaner energy. Some experts speculate by 2040, “gas will make up less than a sixth of the world’s power market as.solar and wind power prevail. (Ibid pg. 52,)
Given trends, Trump will have a hard time keeping his election promises to coal miners. He can pull the country out of the Paris Agreement, satisfying his narrow political base, but he will anger environmentalists, scientists, oil companies (See Blog May 5, 2017) and the general population. Or, he can use another option to save face. He can declare the Paris Agreement a treaty and throw its ratification into Congress’s lap. Whatever he does, his decision will represent a momentary blip in the world’s march to eliminate carbon fuels. As Dawn Farrell, CEO of TransAlta Corp, a money management company, says “I fundamentally believe – whatever the rhetoric is – you want to find the way to make electricity without carbon if you want it to be a good investment.” (Ibid pg. 52.)