Environment
3:32 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

Kentucky Coal Employment Hits Lowest Level Since 1950

A quarterly report shows that the number of jobs in Kentucky’s coal industry has dropped to the lowest level in at least 63 years.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s data shows that about 13,000 people worked in the state’s coal industry during the first quarter of this year. That number represents a drop of nearly a thousand from last year…and it’s the fewest people employed in the industry since the state began keeping records in 1950.

Most of those job losses came in Eastern Kentucky. But so far this year, coal production has been fairly evenly split between the eastern and western coalfields; both produced slightly more than 10 million tons of coal. Total Kentucky coal production has fallen 52 percent since it peaked in 1990.

From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

The federal government has held up dozens of applications to open surface mines in Eastern Kentucky out of concern the permit conditions would not adequately protect water quality. Many people argue that has hurt the industry.

"A bitter fact of life is that the (U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency is following a policy designed to impede the Kentucky coal mining industry," Bissett said in a commentary published in the Lexington Herald-Leader this week.

Others argue the EPA's actions have not hurt production, given that many mines which already have permits are idled for lack of demand because of market factors.

In contrast, coal production in Western Kentucky was up in the first quarter of 2013, which made for a very slight statewide increase in production of 0.4 percent, according to the state report.

When coal-burning power plants needed low-sulfur coal to meet clean-air standards, Eastern Kentucky had an advantage over the higher-sulfur coal from the western end of the state, but the installation of scrubbers at power plants changed that dynamic.

Coal reserves in Eastern Kentucky are also harder to get to, as the easy-to-reach seams are mined out. For a cool look at the mined-out seams, as well as maps of underground mine locations, check out Kentucky's interactive mapping system.

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