The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Aldo Svaldi

U. S. coal pro­duc­tion re­bounded from very low lev­els in the sec­ond half of 2016, as util­i­ties burned more coal to re­place costlier nat­u­ral gas, ac­cord­ing to a re­port Wed­nes­day from the U. S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Much of the in­creased pro­duc­tion came out of the Pow­der River Basin in Wy­oming and Mon­tana, the source of the low­est- cost coal in the coun­try.

“Dur­ing the third quar­ter of 2016, warmer- than- nor­mal tem­per­a­tures led to in­creased elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion— the high­est on record for those three months com­bined— which re­sulted in higher con­sump­tion of coal com­pared to the first half of 2016,” the EIA said in its re­port.

That re­bound con­tin­ued into the fourth quar­ter, even af­ter colder tem­per­a­tures re­duced the use of air con­di­tion­ers. About 90 per­cent of the coal pro­duced in the U. S. goes into power gen­er­a­tion, and in Jan­uary of last year nat­u­ral gas re­placed coal as the dom­i­nant fuel source for elec­tric­ity.

By De­cem­ber, af­ter a 50 per­cent jump in nat­u­ral gas prices, coal had re­gained the top spot. It didn’t do much for Colorado coal min­ers, who suf­fered a 40 per­cent drop in out­put last year ver­sus 2015. Coal pro­duc­tion in the state is down to 1970s lev­els.

President Don­ald Trump cam­paigned on restor­ing coal pro­duc­tion and jobs and on Tues­day re­versed sev­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives he viewed as part of the “war on coal.” Mar­ket forces and warmer tem­per­a­tures, how­ever, were al­ready at work to snap a two- year de­cline in coal pro­duc­tion, ac­cord­ing to the EIA.

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