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The stacks from the Gavin coal power plant in Cheshire, Ohio. Photo: Benjamin Lowy via Getty Images

U.S. coal mines are on the decline: The Energy Information Administration is reporting that the number of active coal mines has fallen to 671 nationwide, from 1,435 in 2008.

The big picture: It's increasingly clear that the market has chosen natural gas over coal as a more affordable, more efficient power source. During the past decade, the primary factor driving the closure of 764 U.S. coal mines — most of them underground — was simply a steady decline in demand.

Details: Coal consumption, 82% of which stems from electricity generation in coal-fired power plants, has fallen to its lowest point in four decades. Spurring on the decline is a nationwide retreat by power providers from coal-fired electricity generation, which fell by a near-record 14.3 gigawatts last year.

  • While the coal industry has claimed that regulation is a major driver of coal’s decline, official projections show that U.S. coal production is now expected to fall at a greater rate than it would have under the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Be smart: The Trump administration's failed attempt to block the closure of the remaining coal-fired unit in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Paradise Fossil Plant made little economic sense. After shutting down two other coal-fired units in the Paradise location in 2017 and replacing them with more efficient gas power generators, the TVA officially voted to close the third on Thursday. This is a trend grounded in the need for efficiency and lower operations and maintenance costs associated with coal units.

What to watch: Now at just 691 million tons, U.S. coal consumption is expected to continue declining, down from 29% to 2% of total electricity production by 2035. This generating capacity will be replaced mostly by less expensive natural gas power plants, whose share is expected to rise from 30% to 37% over the same time period.

The bottom line: With electricity power providers seeking cleaner, more cost-competitive options and the shale revolution unlocking new natural gas reserves, the market — if left alone — will continue to replace coal with natural gas as the dominant fuel source for U.S. electricity.

Richard D. Kauzlarich is a former U.S. ambassador and the co-director of the Center for Energy Science and Policy at George Mason University.

Go deeper

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Food banks feel the strain without holiday volunteers

People wait in line at Food Bank Community Kitchen on Nov. 25 in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York City

America's food banks are sounding the alarm during this unprecedented holiday season.

The big picture: Soup kitchens and charities, usually brimming with holiday volunteers, are getting far less help.

10 hours ago - Health

AstraZeneca CEO: "We need to do an additional study" on COVID vaccine

Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday the company is likely to start a new global trial to measure how effective its coronavirus vaccine is, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Following Phase 3 trials, Oxford and AstraZeneca said their vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.

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