Gov’t Data Says Coal Is Staging A Comeback

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Coal power could see a revival in the near future, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

U.S. coal production fell by 18 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year, but changing market conditions suggest a comeback is one the way, according to the EIA report.

(Graphic from U.S. Energy Information Administration)

(Graphic from U.S. Energy Information Administration)

EIA projects natural gas prices will rise next year, causing coal power to regain some market share in the electricity generation mix. Since most U.S. coal is used to generate power, this will likely cause coal production to increase.

Coal power has been in decline for years due to strict regulations and market conditions that favored natural gas power.

The coal industry is somewhat optimistic about its chances of recovery. President Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to save coal by rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations.

Coal power provided about 33 percent of all electricity generated in the U.S. in 2015, according to data from the EIA. Natural gas provided another 33 percent, while nuclear generated 20 percent. That same year, wind and solar power only accounted for 4.7 and 0.6 percent, respectively, of electricity generation.

Even though coal is still a major part of the U.S. power grid, there are 83,000 fewer coal jobs and 400 fewer coal mines than when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

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, industry employment in coal mining fell by another 33,300 jobs, 10,900 of which occurred in the last year alone, according to federal data. As a result, many ex-coal miners are unemployed and Appalachian “coal country” faces very real economic devastation as a result.

Currently, coal mining employs 69,460 Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Much of the blame for job loss is targeted at federal regulations aimed at preventing global warming, which caused coal power plants to go bankrupt. Yet the energy market does seem to have moved away from coal and towards natural gas, though the extent of this transition is unclear.

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