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Trump revives support for coal industry

By MATTHEW DALY and JILL COLVIN Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Declaring an end to what he's called "the war on coal," President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that eliminates numerous restrictions on fossil fuel production, breaking with leaders across the globe who have embraced cleaner energy sources.

The order makes good on Trump's campaign pledge to unravel former President Barack Obama's efforts to curb global warming, eliminating nearly a dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production, especially oil, natural gas and coal.

Environmental activists, including former Vice President Al Gore, denounced the plan. But Trump said the effort would spark "a new energy revolution" and lead to "unbelievable" American prosperity.

"That is what this is all about: bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again," Trump said during a signing ceremony at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters, where he was flanked on stage by more than a dozen coal miners.

Throughout the election, Trump accused the former president of waging "a war" against coal as he campaigned in economically depressed swaths of states like West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The miners "told me about the efforts to shut down their mines, their communities and their very way of life. I made them this promise: We will put our miners back to work," the president said. "My administration is putting an end to the war on coal."

But Trump's promise runs counter to market forces, including U.S. utilities converting coal-fired power plants to cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas. And Democrats, environmental groups and scientists said the executive order ignores the realities of climate change.

"There is much our nation can do to address the risks that climate change poses to human health and safety, but disregarding scientific evidence puts our communities in danger," said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nation's largest general scientific society.

California Gov. Jerry Brown was more blunt.

"Gutting the Clean Power Plan is a colossal mistake and defies science itself. Erasing climate change may take place in Donald Trump's mind, but nowhere else," Brown said.

While Republicans have blamed Obama-era environmental regulations for the loss of coal jobs, federal data shows that U.S. mines have been shedding jobs for decades under presidents from both parties as a result of increasing automation and competition from natural gas.

Another factor is the plummeting cost of solar panels and wind turbines, which now can produce emissions-free electricity cheaper than burning coal.

According to an Energy Department analysis released in January, coal mining now accounts for fewer than 75,000 U.S. jobs. By contrast, renewable energy -- including wind, solar and biofuels -- now accounts for more than 650,000 U.S. jobs. Trump's order initiates a review of the Clean Power Plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. The regulation -- Obama's signature effort to curb carbon emissions -- has been the subject of long-running legal challenges by Republican-led states and those who profit from burning oil, coal and gas.

The order also lifts a 14-month-old moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. The Obama administration had imposed a three-year moratorium on new federal coal leases in January 2016, arguing that the $1 billion-a-year program must be modernized to ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers and address climate change.

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