tainties inherent in such forecasts. EIA reference case forecasts are based on conditions prevailing at the time they were made and do not take into account alternative policy scenarios such as those discussed above.

EIA coal production projections made during the period of rapid growth between 1982 and 1989 significantly overestimated actual production, as well as rates of production increases, over a 10-year period (Figure 2.10A). Coal production projections were more realistic during the 1990 to 1993 period of recession and more pessimistic in 1994 and 1995 after three years of rapid decrease in production (Figure 2-10B). Projections made between 1996 and 2004 overestimated production during and following a period of sustained economic growth (1994 to 1998) (Figure 2-10C). Data were not available to compare actual versus projected coal production over longer periods (e.g., 25 years).

These historical EIA reference case projections indicate that there is a tendency to overestimate future production when production is rapidly increasing and to underestimate future production when production is decreasing. When projections are made 10 years ahead, these estimation errors are of the order of 50 to 100 million tons per year of coal production, or approximately 5 to 10 percent of total U.S. production. These errors are likely to increase when longer periods and other scenarios are considered. Thus, while the trends predicted by the future scenarios described earlier are indicative of how coal production may be influenced by various factors, actual values could be significantly higher or lower than projected.


While many factors will affect the future use of coal in the United States and globally over the next 25 years or more, recent analyses of coal production and use over the next few decades indicate the following key conclusions:

  • Projections show that future coal use depends primarily on the timing and magnitude of potential regulatory limits on CO2 emissions, on the future demand for electricity, on the prices and availability of alternative energy sources for electric power generation, and on the availability of carbon capture and sequestration technology.

  • Over the next 10 to 15 years (until about 2020), coal production and use in the United States are projected to range from about 25 percent above to about 15 percent below 2004 levels, depending on economic conditions and environmental policies. By 2030, the range of projected coal use in the United States broadens considerably, from about 70 percent above to 50 percent below current levels.

  • At present, coal imports and exports represent small fractions of total U.S. coal production and use. Projections indicate that imports and exports are expected to remain relatively small.

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