Rust Belt America: Coal Usage and Pollution Rates in the Leadup to Emissions Regulations

  • James J. Tanoos PhD Clinical Assoc. Prof., Interim Location Dir., & ProSTAR Grad. School faculty Purdue Polytechnic Vincennes


The coal energy issue was the subject of debate and an area of diametric difference in policy stances between the two major US presidential candidates during the 2016 presidential election season.  Then-candidate Trump positioned the Obama administration as being anti-coal and insinuated that the numerous Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates enacted during the Obama administration had cost jobs and economic prowess in these areas and contributed to the closing of factories and subsequent decrease in the standard of living of citizens there.  Candidate Hillary Clinton defended the Obama policies and claimed that many states and organizations already had and should voluntarily shift their usage of energy to more sustainable models. 

Coal was considered to be a regional issue specific to the Midwest-US geographic region, or Rust Belt, rather than a national issue, and despite the differences in candidate positions, it did not garner much national attention or merit much discussion in the televised presidential debates or in the national press.  Nevertheless, the Rust Belt included the most battleground states, or states that either candidate could win.  Hillary Clinton’s eventual loss was attributed to her losing key battleground states in this region, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  Many consider the coal issue to be a key factor in Trump’s winning these states. 

While there were many claims during this time that coal-fired energy plants were being shut down, there has been no analysis of the direction of coal trends in these states before the Obama-era EPA actions.  Were these states voluntarily decreasing their coal emissions and shifting to more environmentally-friendly power sources before the EPA mandates, or did the EPA effectively shut down coal operations after implementation? 

This study will examine the rates of coal usage by states located in the Rust Belt.  A clear picture of macro coal usage in the years leading up to the anti-coal EPA regulations will indicate which candidate’s talking points had the most merit.  The results of this analysis might further clarify whether future government mandates would be necessary or desirable as a means to prompt a shift toward more sustainable energy sources.


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How to Cite
Tanoos, J. J. (2019). Rust Belt America: Coal Usage and Pollution Rates in the Leadup to Emissions Regulations. International Journal For Research In Social Science And Humanities | ISSN: 2208-2697, 5(2), 18-30. Retrieved from