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Coal production in Montana declines 23% in 2020, demand down

July 21, 2021 GMT

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Coal production in Montana fell by 23% in 2020, compared to the previous year, as demand for coal and the electricity it is used to generate declined during the pandemic.

Nationally, 535 million tons (485 metric tons) of coal was produced in 2020, less than half of the industry’s 2008 high of 1.17 billion tons (1.1 billion metric tons) and the lowest total since 1965, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Coal exports also diminished during the pandemic, the agency said.

Montana’s largest coal producer, the Spring Creek mine, furloughed 73 employees for four months as the pandemic paused manufacturing in the Midwest, The Billings Gazette reported. Decker mine furloughed 98 workers in May 2020 before filing for bankruptcy in December and shutting down in January.

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This year’s economic recovery is helping operating coal mines, said Molly Schwend, executive director of the Montana Coal Council. Even with two mine closures — the other being the seasonal Savage mine near Sidney — production so far this year remains about the same as last year, she said.

Coal production across the U.S. is forecast to increase 15% this year compared to 2020 as electricity demand increases. Exports are expected to increase 21% over last year’s numbers, the Energy Information Administration reports.