Coal Consumption Drops a Record Amount to 44 Year Low

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

Good news -- consumption in coal-fired power plants plummeted to the lowest level in 44 years in 2019 and, as a result, greenhouse gas emissions also declined.

There was some concern that greenhouse gas emissions would return to growth because the economy saw spurts of sudden growth in the past year, but coal consumption declined more than expected even while other parts of the economy expanded.

From the Washington Post:

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell 2.1 percent last year almost entirely because of a sharp drop in coal consumption, according to the Rhodium Group, a private data research firm.

Coal-fired electric power generation, which had rebounded slightly in 2018, fell by a record 18 percent to the lowest level since 1975, the Rhodium study said. Coal burning produces carbon dioxide, which fuels climate change. [...]

“Last year was definitely a good news, bad news story,” said Trevor Houser, a partner with the Rhodium Group and head of its energy and climate team. “There was the biggest drop ever in electric power emissions but little progress in other sectors of the economy.”

While most of us will consider it good news that coal consumption has dropped by so much, it's not likely to be welcome news for the coal industry workers who were promised the store by Donald Trump.

Trump has actually done almost everything the executive branch can legally do to prop up the coal industry by repealing Obama-era regulations that were billed as a "war on coal," but the real war on coal is in technological progress that can't be stopped by any regulation.

Republicans also like to boast that the United States is now a net exporter of energy and I'm not going to argue that's a bad thing, but that's also a reason why coal consumption has dropped to the lowest level since before I was even born. The explosion in exports has been driven by years of booming activity in the natural gas sector, not coal, and gas has displaced coal far more than cleaner energy sources like wind and solar.

The idea that President Obama was responsible for the death of coal and the idea that Trump could resurrect it were both lies. But that won't stop Appalachia from voting for more Republicans, of course, even if those same Republicans deny them the health care and job training they need.

  • muselet

    From mining to final burning, coal is filthy stuff. The sooner it’s phased out completely, the better.

    The climate effect of eliminating coal is roughly equivalent to a gnat’s fart in a hurricane, but at least the toxic soup that accompanies coal mining, refining and burning will be eliminated. So … yay?


    • Draxiar

      I’ll take what I can get. Any coal not being dug up and burned is good news. For me the subtext in this story is the trend that is emerging.

  • gescove

    The drop in emissions from coal is good news. The bad news is other contributions to GHG emissions (like transportation) nearly offset it. Although down compared to 2018, 2019 was up compared to 2016. Not a good trend when the world is on fire.