Wed April 3, 2013
Eastern Kentucky Coal Production Hits Lowest Level Since 1965
New data from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet shows that coal production is down in Eastern Kentucky from previous years, and the region’s workforce is suffering.
Coal production dropped more than 27 percent from 2011 to 2012 in Eastern Kentucky. This is the lowest production has been in the region since 1965. And as expected, coal mine employment fell in Eastern Kentucky too, by nearly 30 percent from the 2011 levels.
But the numbers are slightly better in Western Kentucky. Over the same time period, coal production grew slightly in that region, and employment stayed the same.
Kentucky Coal Association president Bill Bissett says there are a couple of reasons behind the differences in the two regions.
“You have high-sulfur coal in the west, which in the past has been a real impediment to the market,” he said. “Now, with scrubber technology and the way we use coal, it can get to market and it can be sold. Where in the east, coal reserves have been mined to a greater extent, and the more affordable reserves have already been taken.”
Low natural gas prices and more regulations, which have lead to less coal consumption, have also hurt Eastern Kentucky’s coal industry.
Bissett says there’s hope that the declines will slow, and eventually level off. But even if that’s the case, the region has still lost a lot of jobs in the only main industry. The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development says that’s a powerful argument for the necessity of economic diversification.
Ivy Brashear of MACED says the building blocks for a stronger economy are already in eastern Kentucky, but the region needs strong leadership and a plan for replacing the more than 4,000 jobs that were lost last year.
“So we hope that these numbers will kind of be a wakeup call for people to step up and say, ‘well something needs to be done and it needs to be done yesterday. It needs to be done ten years ago,’” she said. “And now is just as good a time as any to act.”
Brashear says there’s potential for development in fields like healthcare, energy efficiency, tourism and agriculture in the region.