The number of active coal mines in the U.S. have shuttered dramatically, with half of the mines operational a decade ago now closed down.
Fueled by years of regulatory burden and stiff market competition, the U.S. coal industry continues to suffer from contraction. There were a total of 1,435 operational mines in 2008, a year when coal production reached a peak. However, a report from the Energy Information Administration reveals that number plummeted to just 671 by 2017.
The Appalachia region experienced the highest amount of mine closures.
Both underground and surface mines experienced closures. Between the nine-year timespan, 60 percent of underground mines shutdown while surface mines contracted by 49 percent. The Illinois and Appalachian Basins — which have the highest number of mines in the U.S. — saw combined total of 750 underground and surface mines stop producing coal.
The dramatic decline in mines coincides with a drop in demand coal.
Faced against cheap natural gas, subsidy-backed renewables and stringent government regulations, coal-fired plants across the country have been rendered uneconomical. Under the last administration, fossil fuel producers were burdened with what many critics deemed the “war on coal” by then-President Barack Obama. At the same time, state governments continue to raise their mandates for renewable energy use — with a growing number of state and local governments looking to eradicate coal from their power market entirely.
Energy analysts expect coal consumption in 2018 to be the lowest in nearly four decades.
President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a platform of breathing life back into the coal industry, has led an unprecedented deregulatory effort since entering office. While his “energy dominance” agenda has witnessed historic results — the U.S., for example, surpassed both Russia and Saudi Arabia in oil production last year — the U.S. coal industry has still suffered decline.
Nevertheless, the Trump administration is continuing to loosen rules that have weighed down the coal industry. The White House is reportedly prepared to rescind an Obama-era rule that requires new coal plants to be fitted with carbon capture technology. When it was first established in 2015, critics in the energy industry derided the rule as essentially a “ban” on any new coal plants.
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