Coal developments in 1980 were encouraging but not dramatic. Coal production for the year was up 6.9% from 1979 levels. Surface mines produced 60% of the 1980 production. Surface mining production costs are lower, resource recovery is greater, and there are fewer health and safety problems involved. In 1980, 70% of all the coal produced originated east of the Mississippi River. Western mines will begin to account for a larger share of production in the future because of the increasing demand for low-sulfur coal. In addition, many of the western coal deposits are suitable for surface mining, a more attractive method of production. However, only 45% of the presently estimated reserves of coal are located west of the Mississippi, and it is estimated that only 33% of all recoverable reserves could be recovered by surface mining.
The largest consumer of coal during 1980 continued to be electric utilities, which increased their consumption by 8% over the 1979 levels. Coal exports were up 39% over 1979 levels. Domestic prices increased in 1980 and are expected to continue to rise. The cost of transportation will be a major factor in raising the price of coal, particularly since the Railroad Deregulation Act was passed in 1980. Railroads carry 65% of all coal shipped in the United States. State severance taxes, especially those for Montana and Wyoming, will also add significantly to the cost of coal unless the federal government sets a maximum rate.
There were no major legislative developments concerning the environmental aspects of coal production during 1980. Leasing of federal coal lands increased during 1980, and shifts in lease ownership have lead to a greater variety of industries that hold federal coal leases. Electric utilities hold the largest percent of all leaseholds. The interest in synthetic fuels from coal continues; the pace of research and commercial development will be strongly affected by the emerging policies of the Reagan administration.