Energy

Coal Production Takes Biggest Plunge Ever Recorded In Obama’s Final Year

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

President Barack Obama’s last year in office saw the biggest single-year plunge in coal production ever recorded.

Energy Information Administration data shows U.S. coal production fell 17 percent from 2015 to 743 million short tons. That’s the lowest production level since 1978 and continues an eight-year decline from peak coal production in 2008.

It’s the largest annual decline in coal production on record — government records start in 1949. The second-biggest decline in coal production came in 2015 when levels fell 11 percent from 2014.

“Production in all major coal regions fell by at least 15%,” EIA reported. “Low natural gas prices, warmer-than-normal temperatures during the 2015-16 winter that reduced electricity demand, the retirements of some coal-fired generators, and lower international coal demand have contributed to declining U.S. coal production.”

Most U.S. coal goes towards electricity generation, so a major driver behind declining production is the fact that coal-fired power plants are shutting down.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations are a major driver of coal plant closures. EPA clean air rules, especially the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which went into effect in 2015.

Low-priced natural gas has also played a big role, especially in conjunction with federal rules.

About 80 percent of the 18 gigawatts of power taken offline in 2015 were coal-fired generators — 30 percent of those coal plants shut their doors before MATS went into effect in April. A record number of coal plants were closed in 2015.

More coal plant closures are expected in 2016 as plants that got a year extension from EPA to comply with MATS prepare to close their doors. Already, 6.5 gigawatts of coal-fired power was taken offline in the first half of 2016.

When coal plants close, coal mine production collapses. Coal production took a record nosedive in 2015, which was also a record year for coal plant closures.

Some 10,900 coal miners have been let go from April 2015 to April 2016, according to federal employment data.

When Obama took office in January 2009, there were about 86,200 coal miners. There were only about 54,500 by December 2016, according to federal data.

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