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Coronavirus accelerates decline of coal industry
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — 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.
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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.
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The safety of workers is another issue. In the most productive coal region in the U.S. — Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin — companies are staggering shifts and running more buses to and from mining towns to create more space between workers.