As Our Energy Wants Change, Where Does Coal Stand?

Jul 28, 2016

As of 2015, Coal production is at its lowest level since 1986, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That means coal companies are struggling to operate in a weak market.

A local effect is that Routt County, home to the Twentymile Mine, found its budget falling short due to a missed tax payment. The small school district there was counting on those funds and the state had to step in with a loan – although Peabody Energy did eventually get permission from the bankruptcy court to pay its taxes. But the decline of the coal industry is massive and widespread.

Interview Highlights With Leigh Paterson

Coal Is On The Decline Nationally

"Since 2011, the U.S. has lost [over] 30,000 coal jobs nationally. Most of those job losses have been in Appalachian states like West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. But more recently, this decline has started to move West... Over the past year or so some of the largest coal companies in the country have filed for Chapter 11. So that's big."

The Coal Market Is Weak Thanks To A Perfect Storm

"A biggie is low natural gas prices. So, right now the price of natural gas is almost half of what it was two years ago. That means more and more natural gas-fired generation is coming online and that, of course, displaces coal....Another big factor here is environmental regulations... Lastly, when it comes to the wave of bankruptcies that we were just talking about there is a key factor and it is debt. Massive, massive debt."

What Candidates Donald Trump And Hilary Clinton Have To Say About It

"Donald Trump has promised over and over to bring coal jobs back and to reopen the mines. But there are a lot of reasons why miners are losing their jobs. And a lot of that has to do with market forces like low natural gas prices. Hillary Clinton got a lot of press when she said this a few months back when she said this in West Virginia: 'We're gonna put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business and we're gonna make it clear that we don't want to forget those people.'"