Here is a bit of energy-use news to feel good about: Americans are using a lot less coal.

In the first quarter of this year, the portion of the country’s electricity that came from coal was almost 20 percent less than in the same period last year. And overall, the Energy Information Administration predicts, coal consumption in the electric sector will decrease by 14 percent this year.

Of course, there’s a reason for this, as Stephen Lacey explains at Climate Progress, and the reason is natural gas. Natural gas is cheap, cheap, cheap, so now we’re burning that instead of coal.

Obviously there are huge drawbacks to switching the country’s energy infrastructure over to natural gas — the climate burden of building the infrastructure, the local environmental impacts of fracking. But on the other hand, every move away from coal is good news; this is the equivalent of getting off heroin and onto methadone. Now the trick is to replace the hard stuff with better alternatives than gas.

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