Total U.S. energy production dropped 4% between 2015 and 2016, the first year-over-year decline since 2009. Notable category moves, according to a Friday release from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, included a 7% increase in renewable energy production and a precipitous 18% fall in coal production.
In another notable reversal, U.S. net energy imports rose 6% after ten years of consecutive decline, which the EIA attributes to rising gasoline demand.
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Much of the overall decline is attributable to lower energy prices, though coal’s drop far outpaced declines in the production of petroleum (5%) and natural gas (2%). As Ars Technica points out, the declines correspond with long-term trends towards an economy that demands less energy overall. Total U.S. energy consumption has held steady during the ongoing economic expansion.
The huge drop in coal production shows how difficult it will be for President Donald Trump to deliver on his promise of bringing jobs back to U.S. coal mining regions. Voters in those economically embattled areas overwhelmingly supported Trump, and Trump quickly rolled back some environmental regulations that he blamed for coal’s doldrums.
But those rules had not yet gone into effect, meaning they had no impact on last year’s coal collapse. Economists and market-watchers widely agree that coal’s decline is the result, not of regulation, but of the natural gas boom and consumer demand for clean energy.