Kentucky coal output hits six-decade low

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Kentucky coal mines produced their smallest amount of coal in 62 years last year, a figure that’s likely to keep falling.

A preliminary report Monday from Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet said the state put out 61.4 million tons of coal in 2015, down 20.7 percent from the prior year and the lowest volume since 1954.

The coal industry in Kentucky had 8,401 people employed at the end of the year, a 28 percent plunge from the end of 2014, and less than half of the 2008 employment figure.

The state agency’s report blamed a number of factors on the decline in demand for Kentucky coal, including environmental regulations, competition from natural gas and decreased electricity demand.

President Obama has instituted a suite of new regulations in his time in office that hurt coal, like his 2012 limits on mercury pollution and his rules last year limiting carbon dioxide output from coal-fired power plants.

Last May saw the first time that natural gas outpaced coal as a power source in the United States for a month, according to the Energy Information Administration. Gas won again for at least four more months last year.

Three percent of Kentucky’s coal went to power plants that closed in 2015, and another 13 percent went to plants slated to close this year.