Gov’t Says Coal Could Come Back This Winter

Andrew Follett | Energy and Science Reporter

Coal-fired electricity could come surging back this winter, according to a new report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

EIA predicts coal could briefly overtake natural gas this winter as the country’s biggest source of electricity, despite natural gas generating more electricity than coal power for every month in 2016 except January.

“After declining for several months, the share of U.S. electricity fueled by coal is expected to slowly begin growing when compared to the same period last year,” EIA found.

“In contrast, the share of generation from natural gas is expected to experience year-over-year declines,” EIA found. “Based on expected temperatures and market conditions, coal is expected to surpass natural gas as the most common electricity generating fuel in December, January, and February.”

These market changes have contributed to rising coal prices. Global coal prices more than doubled over the last year, which could cause a renaissance in the U.S. mining industry, despite President Barack Obama’s best efforts to stifle it. The price of coal in Australia and China has soared by 150 percent since this time last year, according to a graph compiled by Bloomberg.

Such massive price fluctuations are due to regulatory changes in the Chinese steel industry and increased demand in India, which caused coal prices to rise by 20 percent in a single week in September. Rapidly rising coal prices have prompted companies to invest $90 million into a pair of new coal mines in West Virginia and Virginia. These mines will create about 400 jobs in counties where unemployment is almost three times the national average.

America has 83,000 fewer coal jobs and 400 fewer coal mines than it did when Obama was elected in 2008, showing the president has followed through on his pledge to “bankrupt” the coal industry.

A 2015 study found the coal industry lost 50,000 jobs from 2008 to 2012 during Obama’s first term. During Obama’s second term, the industry employment in coal mining has fallen by another 33,300 jobs — 10,900 of which occurred in the last year alone, according to federal data.

Currently, coal mining employs 69,460 Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Much of the blame for the job losses is targeted at federal regulations aimed at preventing global warming, which caused coal power plants to go bankrupt.

Last year, coal power and natural gas power both provided 33 percent of all power generated in the U.S. and nuclear power generates another 20 percent, according to data from EIA. The same year, wind and solar power only accounted for 4.7 and 0.6 percent of all electricity generated in America respectively.

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