President Donald Trump's efforts to save the nation's coal industry have been overtaken by market forces, raising political consequences for him in next year's election.
On Tuesday, the America's largest privately-owned coal miner, Murray Energy Corp., filed for bankruptcy, Foreign Policy reports, making it the eighth coal company to seek Chapter 11 protection in the last year.
Robert Murray, the company's CEO, is a longtime Trump supporter who has lobbied for federal intervention on various levels: leaving the Paris climate agreement, scuttling former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, forcing utility companies to buy coal and undermining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"I would not overlook the importance of Trump's most important coal supporter [Murray] going bankrupt," Kevin Book, the managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, told Foreign Policy.
But coal continues to be crippled by market forces, according to the report.
These include plunging coal consumption, record natural gas production and increasing use of renewable energy sources, particularly wind and solar power.
"There's a combination of factors, but cheap natural gas has been the primary factor that has lowered the competitiveness of coal in the United States," Jason Bordoff, a former Obama energy adviser and founding director of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, told Foreign Policy.
"If you look at the last two to three years, renewable energy has been a bigger driver" in coal's decline that the other market forces, he added.
However, President Trump's trade policies have also hurt the industry, according to the report.
When demand for U.S. coal is lower at power plants, exports have exploded.
But the global trade wars, particularly with China, have dampened the need for coal — especially in manufacturing and steel-making.
Trump administration officials could try to further prop up the coal industry, but those efforts could be challenged in the courts or face resistance from conservative judges appointed by the president.
"They can try many things, but can they defend them?" Book posed, pointing to U.S. oil and gas producers who have grown influential because of fracking.
"Now, other interests that are adversely affected by the government putting their thumb on the scale will have something to say about heavy-handed, command intervention in the market," he added.
Still, these changes leave one question unanswered, according to Foreign Policy: What about the pension and health benefits for thousands of coal-industry workers?
Murray Energy was the last big coal company that still paid into the nearly insolvent miners' pension fund.
With coal-mining jobs scattered across several battleground states, President Trump faces a major test in reviving the industry before next year's election.
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