Foresight’s Sugar Camp longwall mine near Akin in Franklin County ranked first with output of just more than 9 million tons last year. Sugar Camp was followed by Foresight’s Mach No. 1 longwall mine in Williamson County at 6.4 million tons; Murray Energy’s New Future underground mine in Saline County at 5.7 million tons; Foresight’s Deer Run longwall mine in Montgomery County at 5.5 million tons; and Murray’s New Era deep mine in Saline County, also at about 5.5 million tons and just slightly below Deer Run.

In all, the Midwestern coal-producing state had 14 mines that turned out more than 1 million tons last year, EVA said. Other major producing mines included Prairie State Generating’s Lively Grove underground mine in Washington County, Knight Hawk Coal’s Prairie Eagle underground mine in Perry County, Peabody Energy’s Pattiki underground mine in White County, Peabody Energy’s Gateway underground mine in Randolph County, and Arch Coal’s Viper underground mine in Sangamon County.

Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, said he was pleased with the industry’s performance in 2015, which he noted was its best since the U.S. Congress passed the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments in 1990. Before then, Illinois consistently produced 60 million or more tons of steam coal annually. But the CAA’s tighter air quality requirements caused some electric utilities to burn coal with a lower sulfur content than is commonly found in Illinois. As a result, the state’s production steadily fell from about 62 million tons in 1990 to a low of 30 million tons in 2003.

Now, Illinois individually and the Illinois Basin as a whole arguably are the brightest success stories in the U.S. coal industry. With many electric utilities having installed scrubbers and other modern air quality controls in recent years, the state’s coal is in increasing demand domestically and has been making some inroads in foreign markets.

Foresight is expected to boost production in 2015 at its longwall mines and possibly its Shay No. 1 continuous miner operation in Macoupin County. But the biggest single-mine increase could come from White Oak Resources’ White Oak No. 1 longwall mine near McLeansboro in Hamilton County.

EVA said White Oak 1 produced 1.7 million tons in 2014. However, projections by Alliance, which has financed much of the mine’s development and receives royalties from privately owned White Oak, are for the mine to produce more than 5 million short tons in 2015.

Meanwhile, Hallador Energy’s Sunrise Coal subsidiary is expected to be issued a state mining permit this year for its new Bulldog underground mine in Vermilion County, although production at the projected 3-million-tons-per-year mine most likely will not commence until 2016.

At least at the state level, the coal industry may be in better shape politically this year. Republican businessman Bruce Rauner defeated incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn in the November general election and is widely viewed as more supportive of coal than his successor. Gonet, for example, served on Rauner’s energy and environment transition committee. Rauner is “pro-coal and wants to grow the economy with jobs and sees an opportunity with the coal industry,” Gonet said. “So, we supported him.”