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June 27 2017

American Coal Production Up 19 Percent in First 5 Months of 2017

by Jillian Kay Melchior

When I visited Gillette, Wyoming, last August, its residents had a surprisingly unified—and nuanced— view of the election.

It’s the heart of American coal country; contrary to popular perception, Wyoming accounts for about 40 percent of America’s coal production, surpassing even West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

The Cowboy State had not backed Trump in the primaries and generally disapproved of his temperament. But when it came to a choice between Trump and Clinton, who had vowed to put coal miners out of work, Gillette residents were voting their interest. They had families to support, after all.

Early indications suggest that calculation is paying off. In the first five months of 2017, American coal mining is up by 19 percent, according to Department of Energy statistics.

The Associated Press has the report:

In the U.S., the bulk of the increase occurred in major coal-producing states including Wyoming, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Prices for natural gas, a competing fuel in power generation, edged up in early 2017, helping coal, said Andy Roberts of the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. That's expected to be a temporary boost given the nation's huge natural gas supplies. A cold winter in parts of the U.S. also benefited coal by increasing power demand.

The Associated Press notes that this uptick may be temporary:

Cheap natural gas, a growing appetite for renewable energy and stricter pollution rules spurred utilities to shut down or announce retirements for several hundred U.S. coal plants. U.S. utilities that invested heavily in alternatives are considered unlikely to revert to coal, [Andy Roberts of the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie] said, meaning market forces and not Trump's politics will play the biggest role in determining the industry's future.

That’s nothing to shrug at, though. Under the Obama administration, overregulation smothered the coal industry. But when market forces are unleashed, coal can compete (and innovate) on a more level playing field, and consumers can expect that the outcome will be cheaper, higher quality products.

 There are early indications that Trump’s support for coal, along with his administration’s push for deregulation, are spurring creativity and investment. The Casper Tribune reports:

A newly formed company is raising money for a large plant designed to make Wyoming coal burn hotter and thus more valuable to sell. … The firm, registered earlier this year with the state, is scouting for a location in Wyoming to build. The plant will license the treatment and drying process of another company, Clean Coal Technologies.

Last week, Clean Coal announced that a group of investors is seeking $80 million to build a facility in the Powder River Basin.

… Clean Coal’s strategy to dry or concentrate coal is not new, either. But the company’s leaders say they’ve perfected a method that previously was prone to spontaneous combustion as the coal reabsorbed moisture.

There is a potential market for such technology, if the economics are right, said Rob Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming, in an email.

In a state where hundreds of coal miners lost their jobs last year, these developments are promising. 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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