WASHINGTON – It was the battle of the experts at a Cato Institute forum: The Trump administration’s promise of a government-neutral energy policy will give an overdue boost to fossil fuel production, one energy expert said. But another responded that regulations protecting the environment aren’t the reason for the decline in the coal industry and help America’s standing in the world.


“There is a lot more promise than peril,” said Robert Bradley, founder of the Institute for Energy Research, a think tank based on the principle of eliminating regulation of energy companies and ending tax breaks for alternative energy.


At the Wednesday forum, Bradley said the Obama administration’s tax on carbon dioxide emissions by industrial plants was anti-industry.


He called, instead, for the liberation of fossil fuels, which he predicted would reduce budget deficit and the federal debt. Privatizing and liquidating the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and mineral-rich federal land that companies then could excavate would bring in further revenue, he said.


“Maybe we won’t see it in (President Donald Trump’s) first term, but it will be on the table,” he predicted.


But Adelle Morris, a policy director at the left-leaning Brookings Institution, argued that the coal industry had been on the decline years before that rule and other regulations went into effect.


She argued that the decrease in employment was the result of automation and the availability of natural gas as a cheaper alternative. “Coal is mostly used in electricity production and natural gas has taken over as the primary fuel in that sector,” she said.


Trump has emphasized reviving the coal mining industry, promising to bring back jobs.


One of his first actions was to repeal the Obama administration’s “stream protection rule,” which placed new restrictions on coal companies dumping mining waste in streams. Bradley said the rule was another example of how the coal industry had been severely hurt by the climate change movement.


Morris not only disputed environmentally friendly rules as a culprit in coal’s decline, but noted that there also are diplomatic reasons for the Trump administration to have a environment-friendly energy policy.


“It’s one thing to say you think that climate change is a hoax,” she said, “but when you get into a diplomatic situation – the G-20, the UN Framework Convention – and you are dealing with countries that care deeply about climate change, just saying it’s a hoax is not a tenable diplomatic approach.”