US coal forecast cut as virus forces workers to stay home

Wyoming coal strip mine. Photo: iStockphoto

U.S. coal production will fall even more sharply than expected this year as the coronavirus forces businesses to close down, dragging down demand for electricity.

Mines will supply about 537 million tons of coal this year, down 22% from 690 million tons last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Tuesday. A month ago, before lockdown orders took effect across the country, the agency expected production to slide 17%.

The revised forecast shows both the speed and the magnitude of the impact the deadly virus has had upon the global economy. With millions of people at home, entire industrial sectors have all but shut down. While digging up coal is considered an essential activity, producers are idling mines — both in response to the weak market and because the virus has infected some workers.

There’s “less demand for coal in the electric power sector, less demand for U.S. coal exports, and a reduced number of operating coal mines because many have idled as a result of covid-19 related slowdowns,” EIA Administrator Linda Capuano said in a separate statement.

Business and school closures are cutting deeper into electricity use, with demand this year now seen dropping 3.1%, more than the 1% decline from the March forecast. Combined with reductions in commutes and air travel as more people work from home, that’s having an even sharper effect on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

Energy-related CO2 emissions are now expected to drop 7.5% in 2020 and a further 3.6% next year. That’s greater than the 2.2% and 0.4% reductions from the March forecast.

(By Will Wade and Christopher Martin)

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