While policymakers have been somewhat slow to confront the historical and future decline of coal in the state, coal mining executives seem to understand quite well the economic realities facing their industry. As Ken Ward reported last Friday, the CEO of Alpha Natural Resources, Kevin Crutchfield, noted he “expects the region’s production of steam coal for electrical power plants to drop from previous levels of 120 million tons a year to a range of 50 to 70 million tons annually.”
As we’ve noted here and here, Mr. Crutchfield is absolutely right about the decline in steam coal production in Central Appalachia. According to the latest projections for the Energy Information Administration, steam coal production (bituminous coal) will decline sharply over the next two decades (see below)
While Mr. Crutchfield gives a range of 50 to 75 million tons over the coming years, EIA estimates are more pessimistic showing that steam coal production will be below 30 million tons by 2020. It is important to remember that EIA projections also tend to be optimistic. Let’s hope policymakers finally take note and begin to plan for the coming decline of coal in southern West Virginia.
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