How Large and Influential is Coal Usage?

How Large and Influential is Coal Usage?

Overall, US coal usage as a percent of electric power has declined from about 53% in 2000 to 33% in 2015.  We are using data related to electric car choices from a report at

We look at the worst coal burning states, but consider also their population and electoral votes, to try to understand their pollution influence, and why they seem so important politically.  It’s not just the percent coal usage in a state that counts, but the population of the state using it.

This is the 2015 electricity source by state data from EIA as displayed on

There are fifteen states which use coal for more than 50% of their electricity.  The eight between 50% and about 60% are Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Colorado, Nebraska, and New Mexico.  

The next higher four are between 75% and 80% coal usage, and have the following population in millions and electoral votes:

North Dakota.   0.76.    3 votes

Utah.                   3.05.    6 votes

Indiana.              6.63.  11 votes

Missouri.            6.09.  10 votes

The highest coal usage states are well recognized politically as coal states:

Kentucky.          4.44.    8 votes

Wyoming.         0.59.    3 votes

West Virginia.  1.83.     5 votes

The total electoral votes of the worst seven coal burners above is 46, or 8.6% of the total 538 electoral votes.  Their total population is 23.39 million or 7.3% of the US population in 2014 of 319 million.

For comparison, the four largest population and electoral vote states are, with percent coal usage:

California.          39.3.    55 votes.    0%

Texas.                 27.9.    38 votes.  28%

Florida.              20.6.    29 votes.  18%

New York.          19.7.    29 votes.    2%.

So the total population of the seven worst coal burning states does not significantly exceed that of any of the four leading population states.  The 46 electoral votes of seven states of course includes the 14 Senators from those states.  From just representatives themselves, there are 32.  The 32 representatives are just 7.4% of the House.  But the 14 Senators are 14% of the Senate, or 26% of the 53 Republican Senators.  The biggest influence is that Republican Senate Majority Leader (and thief of Supreme Court appointments) Mitch McConnell is a Senator from Kentucky.

Of course, we have left out key coal production states such as Pennsylvania and Illinois, which in addition to Wyoming, West Virginia, and Kentucky, together make up 71% of US coal production.  Pennsylvania uses about 32% coal, and Illinois uses about 39%.

Illinois is fifth in population at 12.80 million with 20 electoral votes, and Pennsylvania is sixth, but almost tied, at 12.78 million, also with 20 electoral votes.  Hillary Clinton won Illinois in 2016 by 56% to Trump’s 39%.  Trump squeaked by with Pennsylvania in 2016 by 48.18% to 47.46%, or 44,000 votes, or 0.72%.   

We note that a lot of coal burning states from Virginia (VN) on down equal their coal burning percentage with greenhouse gas free sources nuclear and wind.  This roughly averages out to similar greenhouse emissions to natural gas, which is the rest of their power.  So they are equivalent to a state that just uses natural gas, except for the air pollution from coal.  As the conversion of coal to natural gas or renewables continue, these states will look better and better.

We see why Trump, who has been running for 2020 since the day he got elected, is fully behind coal, but it is not worth sacrificing our climate future from the point of view of the small population of the heaviest coal usage states.  It is another thing to go to climate action international conventions, and promote coal.  And to remove restrictions on new coal plants, ignoring the best science available, as the EPA is required to consider.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
This entry was posted in 2020 Election, Affairs of State, Climate Change, Clinton, Coal, Donald Trump, Electric Power, Energy Efficiency, EPA, Equivalent Electric Car Emissions, Fossil Fuel Energy, Global Climate Action Summit, Paris Climate Accord, Paris Climate Agreement, Politics, Regulations, Transportation. Bookmark the permalink.

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