President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs may invite retaliation against American coal, an industry he promised to revive.
Surging exports have been one of the only recent bright spots in beleaguered coal country. Demand in the United States has shrunk because of competition from natural gas and renewable energy, but the appetite for coal is strong in the fast-growing economies of Latin America and Asia.
But coal country could be harmed if Trump follows through on a vow to impose a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% levy on aluminum.
Brazil, a major exporter of steel to the United States, has already hinted at retaliation. Brazil’s Industry Ministry warned last week that it may take action to “preserve its national interest” in response to Trump’s tariffs.
The statement pointedly noted that Brazil is the largest importer of U.S. metallurgical coal, the type used in steelmaking.
To feed its steel industry, Brazil imported 5.2 million metric tons of so-called met coal through the first three quarters of 2017, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That easily made Brazil the biggest customer for American met coal.
“If someone is trying to retaliate, coal would be an easy target given the president’s support toward the industry,” said Andy Roberts, a coal analyst at energy research firm Wood Mackenzie.