Obama: ‘We Have Seen Increases in Coal Production,’ Energy Dept.: Coal Production Down from ‘08

By Terence P. Jeffrey | October 17, 2012 | 12:46 PM EDT

President Barack Obama during the Oct. 16, 2012 presidential debate at Hofstra University. (AP Photo/Rick Wilking)

(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama said in Tuesday night's debate that the U.S. has seen “increases in coal production and coal employment,” but the Energy Information Agency of the U.S. Department of Energy says coal production in the United States hit a peak in 2008 and has never regained that level.

The EIA also says coal production decreased in the first half of this year compared to the first half of 2011. However, in just the period from 2009 to 2011—excluding 2008 and 2012--coal production did increase.

“We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment,” Obama said as part of his answer to a participant in the townhall-style debate who asked him if he agreed with Energy Secretary Steven Chu who said it was not the policy of his department to lower gas prices.

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A little later in the debate, Obama said, “With respect to something like coal, we made the largest investment in clean coal technology, to make sure that even as we're producing more coal, we're producing it cleaner and smarter.”

But according to the Energy Information Agency, which has published historical coal production figures dating back to 1949, U.S. coal production peaked in 2008, when it hit 1.171809 billion short tons (a short ton equals 2,000 pounds).

In 2011, the last full year on record, U.S. coal production was 1.095628 billion short tons—76.181 million less than in 2008.

Coal production also declined in the first two quarters of this year compared to the first two quarters of last year. In the first two quarters of 2011, according to EIA, coal production was 273.478 million short tons and 264.291 short tons--for a total of 537.769 million. In the first two quarters of 2012, it was 266.405 and 241.361--for a total of 507.766 million

Obama can claim coal production is up if he limits the timeframe he is talking about to only the period from 2009 to 201. In 2009, coal production dropped to 1.074923 billion short tons from 1.171809 billion in 2008. But then in 2010, it increased to 1.084368 billion short tons, and in 2011 to 1.095628 billion.