Economy

Kentucky lags Pennsylvania, Illinois in coal production in 2016, could drop to 5th place

Scott Tiller, a coal miner of 32 years, eats his lunch while laying down on a man trip, a cart that shuttles miners underground, as he works a shift in a mine less than 40-inches high in Welch, W.Va., on May 11, 2016.
Scott Tiller, a coal miner of 32 years, eats his lunch while laying down on a man trip, a cart that shuttles miners underground, as he works a shift in a mine less than 40-inches high in Welch, W.Va., on May 11, 2016. AP

Kentucky fell behind Pennsylvania and Illinois in coal production in the first nine months of the year, making it possible that the country’s No. 3 coal state could drop to No. 5 by the time the full year’s numbers are available.

Kentucky has been the country’s third-leading coal producer behind West Virginia and Wyoming since 1994, and was the leading coal state from 1971 to 1988.

But many factors have led to its decline, including an abundance of cheap natural gas, cheaper coal from western states, renewable energy, environmental regulations and a decline in electricity demand.

President-elect Donald Trump had campaigned on a promise to put coal miners back to work, but it’s not certain he could change the momentum that favors natural gas and renewables, especially wind and solar.

Additionally, Trump has made cabinet appointments who strongly favor natural gas production or coal from western states, which has a lower energy content but is far cheaper to produce than eastern coal.

West Virginia and Kentucky had the highest coal employment in 2015, with more workers than Wyoming, Illinois and Pennsylvania combined.

Kentucky produced about 31.5 million tons of coal the first nine months of the year, a nearly 35 percent decrease from 2015. Pennsylvania, by comparison, had produced 32.9 million tons, and Illinois, 32.5 million tons.

Kentucky coal production peaked in 1990 at about 179 million tons, but by 2015 had declined to 61 million tons, according to the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.

According to the U.S. Energy Information administration, Kentucky was lagging four other states in coal production in 2016 as of the end of September.

Kentucky produced about 31.5 million tons of coal the first nine months of the year, a nearly 35 percent decrease from 2015. Pennsylvania, by comparison, had produced 32.9 million tons, and Illinois, 32.5 million tons.

West Virginia produced 58.8 million tons in the first nine months of the year, and Wyoming 131.9 million tons. All five states posted declines from 2015 to 2016, but Kentucky’s was the steepest.

The full-year 2016 figures will be available in early February, according to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis

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