In 2020, the United States produced 535 million short tonnes (MMst), a 24% reduction from the 706 MMst mined in 2019 and the lowest amount of coal production in any year since 1965. The decline in US coal production in 2020 was primarily due to lower foreign coal demand and lower coal demand in the US electric power industry. In addition, coal became less competitive for power generation as natural gas costs fell.
Coal-fired power generation in the United States declined by 20% in 2019 compared to the previous year. In addition, natural gas prices began the year 2020 at a low level due to mild winter weather, which lowered natural gas demand for space heating, and prices stayed low as the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic cut both natural gas production and consumption.
In 2020, coal exports from the were 26% lower than in 2019. The COVID-19 epidemic halted global coal demand, and certain coal mines in the United States were shut down for extended periods to prevent the virus from spreading among workers. Exports of coal fell sharply in April 2020 as the United States and other countries responded to the pandemic.
Sulfur emissions from new coal-fired power stations were limited by the Clean Air Act of 1970. Subbituminous coal, which has a lower sulfur level than other coal kinds, was one way for coal plants to meet the emissions rules. This shift, combined with oil shortages and high oil prices in the 1970s that made coal more affordable, aided the expansion of mining and the development of large, open-pit coal mines in the Powder River Basin, which contains most of the country’s sub-bituminous coal. For example, black Thunder, one of the largest coal-producing mines in the United States by volume, began operations in Wyoming in 1977.