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“Between 2006 and 2016,” according to the Rhodium Research group, “US coal consumption declined by 34 percent and production fell by 37 percent. US Coal use continued declining in 2017, despite Trump policies.

coal 2017 - domestic demandHowever, US coal production picked up 6% because of exports, while Chinese and Australian coal exports were down. Coal use is higher during winter months when natural gas prices spike, something used by the industry to tout the usefulness of coal. But that ignores the overall decline in coal use that continues during the rest of the year.

For source & more, click this link.

Clean Coal Kaput–In August 2017, the Kemper power plant in Dekalb, Mississippi, announced it would lay off 75 workers at its mine, and possibly as many as 250 workers in the energy plant as a whole. The plant was designed to be the country’s first so-called “clean coal” facility, gasifying coal and capturing and storing much of the carbon dioxide released when burning coal for power. In June 2017, the plant, 4.5 billion over budget, said it was stopping its work on clean coal to burn natural gas, in part for cost reasons.

In early July 2015, Alpha coal company announced it was laying off 292 workers in 6 mines and a processing plant  in Virginia and Kentucky. Unfortunately those workers will not have the same enhanced unemployment and retraining benefits that this I-187 Initiative provides for displaced fossil fuel workers.

mountaintop coal mining
Used by permission of Gary Braasch. Click picture to enlarge or here to link to more pictures of coal mining/use.
  • Over the five years prior to 2015, 300 U.S. coal mines shut down, more than 200 coal-fired power plants closed, and 25 coal companies went bankrupt. Miners in the last union coal mine in Kentucky pulled their last 10 hour/4 day a week shift in September of 2015. That leaves Kentucky’s non-union miners to do long hours 6 days a week. Nevertheless, during that time top executives at the 30 largest fossil-fuel companies in the United States made nearly $6 billion. That’s twice as much as the US pledged to the Green Climate Fund, an international financial institution intended to help poor countries respond to climate change. Letting coal company execs “fly” while downsized fossil-fuel workers scramble to replace their jobs is not just.
  • Alpha Natural Resources a coal company went belly-up. It convince the bankruptcy judge to grant $3.4 to $11.9 million in bonuses for 15 top executives while asking the court to cut medical and life insurance benefits for 4,580 nonunion miners and their spouses and making 6,670 active employees ineligible for retirement benefits. While I-187 likely would not help workers in similar circumstances, it provides pension benefits for Montana workers when defunct coal companies can’t make good on previously promised pension benefits. Link to this news report.

The Earth Policy Institute notes:

  • “Major U.S. coal producers, such as Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, have seen their market values drop by 61 and 94 percent, respectively, as of September 2014.
  • “The Stowe Global Coal Index – a composite index of companies from around the world whose principal business involves coal – dropped 70 percent between April 2011 and September 2014.
  • “While India has not committed to cap or reduce its coal use, it recently doubled its tax on coal mined domestically or imported into the country – a revenue transfer that simultaneously discourages the use of coal and provides investment capital for solar generation.”
  • “China still consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined, but usage fell in 2014, possibly signaling a peak in usage. [This prediction turned out to be true, as you can see from this bar graph:]

To those who wonder whether our doing anything will matter because they don’t know what China is doing, you can tell them, “In Paris, China pledged to develop 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity by 2030 — the equivalent of the entire US electricity system,”  according to David Roberts.

Picture of Chinese air pollution
China is cutting back on coal use because of thick smoke and smog, which has become endemic and life threatening in Northern China. Here pollution cloaks city near the Dalate coal power plant, Inner Mongolia. Photo used by permission of Gary Braasch

In early 2017, writes David Roberts, “China’s National Energy Administration canceled 103 coal-fired power projects across 13 provinces that, if completed, would have added 120,000 megawatts of coal-fired power to the grid. Beijing is also steadily shutting down older, existing plants that cannot meet the nation’s increasingly tight emissions regulations.”

In 2004 , the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) estimated it’s 19 states would need 43,500 MW of new electric generating capacity by  2015.  We have exceeded that WGA number. As of March 31, 2015, 59,502 MW of new wind, solar, and geothermal [1] electric generating capacity had been  installed in those states.  (The wind numbers were calculated from 2015 data  compared to 2004 data.)

Capacity factors for wind turbines, while improving with increased tower height and technological innovation,  are less than capacity factors in other generation, so it takes more MW of wind turbines to produce the same amount of electricity as a MW of fossil fuel facilities.  Nevertheless, some of this new green electricity capacity is replacing fossil fuel generation that has been and is being shut down.

Graphic indicating wind can provide 1/3 of US electricity by 2050 while preventing 22,000 premature deaths.
To help alleviate the health effects of burning fossil fuel, please click the picture to let us know you will sign the paper petition supporting I-187, the 80% renewable electricity by 2034 initiative if we contact you.

For insight on coal policy in Indian Country click here.

For more on this topic see the  Closing Coal Plants chapter in “The Great Transition.”

Page last updated 9/9/2019



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