By Mead Gruver and Matthew Brown
Travis Deti has been working the phones to try to get government support for the U.S. coal industry during the coronavirus pandemic. Between recent calls, the head of the Wyoming Mining Association tried to unclog a sink at home.
But unlike Deti’s sink, which eventually started flowing again with help from a plumber, aid remains stubbornly clogged for an industry whose already rapid decline is accelerating because of the economic effects of the virus.
“We’d take anything right now,” said Deti, whose group represents companies that produce about 40% of the nation’s coal.
Coal demand has tanked over the past decade amid competition from cheap natural gas and expanded renewable energy sources. Coal companies have faced a reckoning as the world looks to combat climate change and move away from fossil fuels despite President Donald Trump’s effort to revive the industry.
Now, the pandemic has made things worse. Lockdowns have shut off lights and computers in offices and schools, sapping demand for electricity provided by coal-fired power plants. Americans stuck at home binge-watching Netflix aren’t coming close to making up for that drop in demand, expected to be 3% for 2020.
There are bright spots, however. The worldwide decline in electricity consumption, along with less fuel being burned for transportation, has meant clearer skies. Particulate pollution is down almost 19% in India and 6% in China since before the outbreak, according to Fiona Burlig with the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute. The decrease in the U.S. is a modest 0.5%.
The U.S. is expected to see a 7.5% drop in climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions tied to reduced production — that is until carbon dioxide emissions surge next year as the economy rebounds, according to projections by the Energy Information Administration.