Even Mitch McConnell now says repealing Obama’s rules alone won’t bring back coal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said rolling back the Obama administration’s environmental rules wouldn’t entirely bring back the coal industry in eastern Kentucky.

McConnell told McClatchy in an interview that lawmakers in Congress would work with the incoming Trump administration to “remove as many of the government impediments as possible and give the coal industry a chance to survive.”

“Anybody who’s in the coal business can tell you that the government has made it dramatically tougher for the coal industry to survive,” he said.

McConnell also said natural gas produced through hydraulic fracturing was “a major development for the country” and “a good thing for America.”

Natural gas has displaced coal as the country’s primary source of fuel to generate electricity, and the shift has particularly hurt coal production in central Appalachia, including eastern Kentucky, where coal is more expensive to mine and transport.

Eastern Kentucky coal even has trouble competing with cheaper coal produced in the western part of the state, as well as coal that’s mined on federal lands in other states.

President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to put coal miners back to work. But he’s also tapped officials for his Cabinet whose states are big winners of the natural gas boom, or those that produce cheaper coal mined on leased federal lands.

Kentucky, long the nation’s third-leading coal producer behind Wyoming and West Virginia, also lagged Illinois and Pennsylvania in the first nine months of 2016.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced an $11 million grant to help train laid-off mine workers for information technology and advanced manufacturing jobs.

McConnell had spoken to Labor Secretary Tom Perez to help secure the funding.

“Our coal miners, particularly in eastern Kentucky, have suffered enormously over the last several years,” McConnell said last week, “the result of which has been the loss of thousands of high-wage jobs in a region facing serious economic challenges.”

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis