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As demand ebbs, U.S. coal has new playbook to dig itself out

An excavator stands in this aerial photograph taken above the Peabody Energy Wild Boar coal strip mine in Lynnville, Indiana, on April 5, 2016. Photo: Luke Sharrett.

Boosted by higher prices and presidential promises of aid, U.S. coal is having a comeback season. Yet a looming quandary remains: Demand continues to shrink.

In the boom-bust cycles of old, the fuel's use grew relentlessly as a fleet of coal-fired power plants fed America's hunger for electricity. Now, a new age of clean, cheap natural gas and renewables has emerged, thanks to the shale boom and fears of global warming. That's led to almost 50 gigawatts of coal-fired generating capacity being shut down since 2012, enough to power New York and Vermont combined. And no new coal plants are being built...

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