Mountaintop removal coal output drops 62 percent

Coal production from the controversial mountaintop removal mining technique has dropped nearly two thirds in the last six years.

United States mines with permits to use that practice saw a 62 percent decline in production between 2008 and 2014, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Tuesday.

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That compares with a 15 percent drop in all coal output during that time and a 21 percent decrease in production from all surface mining, the EIA said, citing data from various federal and state agencies.

“Lower demand for U.S. coal, primarily used to generate electric power, driven by competitive natural gas prices, increasing use of renewable generation, flat electricity demand, and environmental regulations, has contributed to lower U.S. coal production,” the EIA said of the decline.

In mountaintop removal, miners blast large portions of mountains away to access coal, and often move the waste material to valleys or streams, leaving the landscape more flat or gently contoured.

The practice is most prevalent in central Appalachia, with West Virginia seeing the most production from mountaintop removal. Kentucky and Virginia also have such mines, and Tennessee did as recently as 2013.

The Interior Department is working on a regulation due out soon that seeks to better protect streams from the mountaintop removal process.

The EIA’s report counts all coal production from mines with mountaintop removal permits, since the agency said it cannot separate out the coal mined through other techniques at the same mines.