The Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday said U.S. coal production fell in 2020 to its lowest level since 1965 due to low global demand in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The federal agency said in a report that U.S. coal production totaled 535 million short tons (MMst) in 2020, a 24% decrease from the 706 MMst mined in 2019.
The EIA said the pandemic slowed global demand for coal, and some U.S. mines were idled for extended periods to slow the spread of the virus among workers, with exports declining significantly in April 2020.
U.S. coal-fired generation fell 20% year-on-year and exports were 26% lower in 2020 than in 2019.
Coal production in Wyoming, where more coal is produced than in any other state, was 21% lower in 2020 than it was in 2019, while the second-largest producer West Virginia saw an annual slide of 28%, the agency said.
The EIA explained that the decline was also as a result of less U.S. electric power sector demand for the non-renewable energy source, while lower natural gas prices made coal less competitive for power generation.
Coal had been the primary fuel for U.S. power plants for much of the last century, but its use has been declining since peaking in 2007.
Gas overtook coal as the leading fuel for U.S. power plants in 2016, according to federal data, and has held that title ever since.
As of late-May this year, U.S. power companies plan to retire or convert over 5,800 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired plants in 2021 to gas after shutting over 10,400 MW in 2020, according to EIA and Thomson Reuters data.