Colorado mining rebound expected under Trump administration

Stan Dempsey
Stan Dempsey

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The mining industry — coal mining in particular — is expected to fare better under changing federal policies, according to the president of the Colorado Mining Association.

“This is an industry we believe is going to rebound,” said Stan Dempsey.

That in turns bodes well for the state because mining contributes  $8.8 billion to the economy and accounts for more than 73,000 jobs. Coal mining alone accounts for 6,200 direct jobs, he said.

Dempsey discussed his outlook for the Colorado mining industry during a briefing hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Colorado ranks among the top states for its production of various metals and coal, Dempsey. The state ranks first for its production of molybdenum, a metal used in making everything from steel to toothpaste, he said. Colorado ranks fourth for gold production and is also a leading producer of the gypsum used to make wallboard and sodium bicarbonate used to make baking soda and other products.

Colorado ranks 13th for coal production with 12.5 millions tons mined in 2016. That production is split about evenly between sales in the state and outside the state.

About 55 percent of the electricity generated in Colorado comes from coal-fired power plants, Dempsey said.

While coal production in Colorado declined — Dempsey termed 2016 “horrible — he expects that trend to change.

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has begun to make good on his campaign promise to save the coal industry, Dempsey said. “The president has done a tremendous amount of work.”

That includes an ordered review of the Clean Power Plan requiring a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — an effort Dempsey said was “designed to put the coal industry out of business.”

There’s also a review of a policy to consider the social costs of carbon in making decisions — an effort Dempsey said was intended to keep coal in the ground.

Moreover, there’s been an end to the moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands, he said.

In addition, Trump’s appointments of Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Ryan Zinke as secretary of the interior and Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice, all bode well for the mining industry, Dempsey said.

In Colorado, several measures that would have affected the mining industry were defeated in the Colorado Legislature, Dempsey said, among them measures that would have set climate goals and encouraged the premature closing of  coal-fired power plants.

Still, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order compelling reductions in so-called greenhouse gas emissions to meet targets set by the Paris climate agreement.

Offering an update on the Colorado coal mining industry specifically, Dempsey said expansions are planned for mines near Durango and Steamboat Springs as well as for the West Elk Mine in Somerset.