A new U.S. Department of Energy report says that competition from natural gas -- not Obama administration regulations -- has been the largest reason for the decline of the Appalachian coal industry, offering a conclusion that sharply contradicts President Donald Trump's rhetoric and the public relations campaign waged in the region by the mining industry and most local political leaders.

The DOE staff report acknowledges that action on long-delayed environmental rules meant to implement decades-old pollution laws played a role in the closure of coal-fired power plants, but also places the largest share of the blame squarely on the natural gas boom in West Virginia's Marcellus Shale and other shale-gas fields across the country.

"The biggest contributor to coal and nuclear plant retirements has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation," says the 187-page report made public Wednesday.

The report noted that horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques, especially in the shale-gas fields like the Marcellus, have "significantly expanded the availability of natural gas and lowered its costs" across the U.S. and the world.

DOE said that natural gas generation has grown "nearly continuously since the late 1980s" in part because gas plants have lower capital costs and are less land-intensive than other types of generation, but also because natural gas pipelines can be built more quickly than electric transmission lines because pipelines "have a comparatively streamlined permitting process."

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