To say that in 2019 America produced less coal than it has in any year since 1978 is telling only part of the story. Because in 1978 coal mines across the country were engaged in a national miner’s strike—one in which the President Jimmy Carter was definitely on the wrong side of history in attempting to force miners back on the job through the courts. Ultimately, though the miners technically won in terms of getting what they wanted, they lost because the strike accelerated the focus of mining companies into western coal fields where they would eventually break the union by shutting out union miners from large new surface mines while idling smaller mines in the east.
But there was no miner’s strike in 2019. There was also no coronavirus pandemic, because that didn’t become a problem until after the first of the year. What the latest numbers from the Energy Information Administration show is an industry in rapid decline. A minor increase in 2017 has proven to be unsustainable, despite Donald Trump throwing the industry every possible assistance. Coal production declined 7% in 2019. And the data available so far shows that 2020 will be even worse for an industry that’s vanishing faster than anyone would have believed possible a decade ago. Electricity generated by coal in the U.S. fell to a 42-year low in 2019, decreasing over 15% in a single year. Since then it has fallen an amazing 34% in the last five months. That’s not 34% total, it’s 34% on top of the 15% decline last year.