New article says that the closure of 138 coal plants in the US saved 26,610 lives in America
Coal has become a distressed industry in recent years – and the election of Donald Trump has not stopped the decline.
But most problems are not about a green attack on the fossil fuel industry; they are because natural gas prices have fallen, largely thanks to fracking, making it a much more economical option for electricity generators.
Coal production remained stable at around 1,000 million tonnes per year from 2000 to 2012, but has since fallen by around a quarter. In 2018 it was 755 million tons. And since 2010, more than 240 mines have been closed or announced that they will close.
In many cases, the power stations that they supplied first closed down due to a combination of cheaper natural gas and pollution regulations that increased their operating costs.
Coal is now responsible for a quarter of electricity production, compared to 35% natural gas. In 2008, almost 45% of the electricity came from coal.
Attempts by the Trump government to reverse the pollution regulations have had little net effect due to the continued low cost of natural gas.
As a result, three of the four largest mining companies went bankrupt in Chapter 11 in 2015 and 2016; the remaining, Cloud Peak Energy has declared this this year.
In terms of jobs, the decrease is less pronounced, but in 2016 the number of miners reached the lowest level since the start of the records, at 50,500. It is now 52,900. According to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, 28,000 people are employed in coal-fired power stations.
Railways, which transport almost all coal in the country, are also important employers, although they have diversified income thanks to the shale oil and fracking boom.
The concentration of the coal industry in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Wyoming, and Alabama has given it enormous political muscle strength in those states and in Republican politics, with the miners of Pennsylvania as one of the forces behind the Trump victory in 2016. His campaign made use of Hillary Clinton and said she wanted to remove miners from jobs in order to gain access to the traditional democratic core countries.
The majority of coalfields are east of Mississippi, but the majority of production is now west of it.
The industry’s attempt to survive in recent years has led to an increase in exports, largely to Europe, but it has been hit by West Coast states that are preventing the movement of export coal through their railways and ports.