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U.S. coal demand and production are on the rise, and MT and WY are helping drive the increase

 A pile of coal.
Creative Commons
A pile of coal.

Higher natural gas prices coupled with recovering demand for U.S. coal are putting the coal industry on track for the first year-over-year increase in generation it’s seen since 2014.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects 22% more U.S. coal-fired generation this year than last, partially due to coal’s stable prices compared to natural gas, and stoked by increased demand from domestic and Asia Pacific markets.

U.S. coal production increased from roughly 265,000 thousand tons in the first six months of 2020 to about 283,000 thousand tons over the same period this year, according to federal data, with production rising even more since July.

Westmoreland Mining owns three coal mines in Montana. Chief Operating Officer Joe Micheletti says while he doesn’t believe coal is on the verge of returning to 2008 heights, he’s optimistic about the industry’s rebound.

“It’s been year after year where we’ve seen decline, decline, decline," he says. "Our hope is maybe we’ve hit the bottom and what we see coming is maybe what we see right now that the coal demand is going to be maybe steady."

Coal from the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana accounts for around 43% of U.S. output.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.

Kayla Desroches reports for Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed in the city for college, where she hosted a radio show that featured serialized dramas like the Shadow and Suspense. In her pathway to full employment, she interned at WNYC in New York City and KTOO in Juneau, Alaska. She then spent a few years on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, where she transitioned from reporter to news director before moving to Montana.
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