The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration projects that coal consumption in the electric power sector for 2012 is expected to fall to less than 900 million tons, the lowest level since the 1990s, as more of the industry switches to natural gas.
"The decline in coal consumption reflects, in part, the continued switch by the electric industry to natural gas," the EIA said in its forecast. "Power sector demand for natural gas is expected to grow by almost 9 percent this year to a record high of 22.7 billion cubic feet per day."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans Tuesday to impose rules that would limit emissions from new power plants. The EPA said the proposed standards are in line with trends in natural gas while also charting a path toward less-polluting facilities.
The U.S. power sector consumers about 92 percent of all of the coal produced domestically. The EIA predicted natural gas consumption for power generation would rise from 24.8 percent in 2011 to 27.1 percent this year. Coal consumption is expected to drop from 42.2 percent to 40.4 percent during the same period.