Over the past decade, large-scale coal production and exportation has become an important activity for Colombia’s economy. However, this sector is now facing a range of domestic and international social and economic pressures.

This article seeks to fill what appears to be a shared gap in the energy transition and natural resource governance research fields: the ways through which incumbent actors of the fossil fuel regime respond to socio-economic pressures and actively resist change.

Based on a case study on large-scale coal production in Colombia, the authors analyze incumbent actors’ discursive, instrumental and institutional political strategies to maintain the status quo and shed light on their preliminary intended and unexpected results.

This paper finds that although instrumental strategies continue to be important, discursive ones aiming at influencing public narratives have gained increased ground within companies and among government officials. Yet, new contention strategies do not seem to guarantee incumbents’ structural power and paradoxically could hinder their already eroded legitimacy.