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Americans Used Less Coal This Year Than Any Year Since 1979

Americans used less coal in 2018 than they have in any year in the past four decades, the Energy Information Administration announced Tuesday.

Americans used about 700 million tons of coal in 2018, according to the federal agency, which is dedicated to collecting statistics about American energy use. The last time the country used a comparable amount of coal was in 1979. At that time, the American population was much smaller, by about 100 million people.

The low number is part of a steep and steady drop that's been ongoing since 2007. The Energy Information Administration attributes coal's decline mostly to competition from power plants fueled by natural gas, whose price has remained low.

Line graph showing U.S. coal consumption from 1950 to 2018.

Other reasons include the aging of coal power plants; competition from renewable energy sources, such as hydroelectric dams and wind farms; and pressure from regulations. A record number of coal power plants were retired in 2015, the Energy Information Administration notes, the same year that stricter emissions standards went into effect. Many small plants shuttered, rather than spend the money to upgrade their equipment. More than 500 coal-fired generators were retired between 2007 and 2017, according to the agency.

Bar graph showing coal power plants retired, and slated to retire, every year from 2007 to 2020

The Energy Information Administration predicted earlier this year that demand for United States coal will be flat for the next 30 years.