The Collapse of Coal: A Video Documentary


America’s coal industry is in crisis. Production is down, regulations are increasing and major companies have declared bankruptcy.

So what happened to American coal?

One factor is simple economics. After dominating U.S. energy for decades the easily extractable coal is gone, and the price of coal has risen alongside extraction and transportation costs. While the cost of coal is going up, prices for renewables have gone down. And the fracking boom in North America made natural gas a tough competitor for coal.

And this is as many coal companies heavily invested in metallurgical coal mines, betting on China’s rapid growth to create a demand for American steel. When China didn’t buy, American companies took massive losses.

There’s also a government regulation which has the industry scared. The Clean Power Plan aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, namely coal plants. To do that, coal plants have to make expensive upgrades to their facilities. Or they could face closure all together.

Communities that rely on these coal mines and power plants have borne the brunt of the industry’s struggles. In coal counties across Appalachia, old mines are abandoned, piles of potentially hazardous waste left behind. Thousands of coal miners across the country have lost their jobs.

Inside Energy and The Allegheny Front teamed up to look at how these communities are trying to recover, and what the future holds for American coal.

What’s Next:

  • Check out Inside Energy’s ongoing coverage of the coal industry in Wyoming and elsewhere.
  • What happens to clean-up costs for coal mines after companies are bankrupt?  We look problems with paying for clean-up, and the complicated and expensive process of reclamation.
  • Any idea what the production decline in coal SOUNDS like?  We “audioized” the data here.