Environment

Kentucky’s coal industry has recorded another dismal quarter, where both coal jobs and production have declined across the state.

In the second quarter of 2015, only 9,605 people were employed in the coal industry, down from a recent peak of more than 19,000 at the beginning of 2009. Kentucky also recorded the lowest-ever quarter of coal production since the 1960s, and the state’s quarterly coal report notes that the state is on track to mine less than 64 million tons of coal this year. As recently as 2008, the state’s coal mines produced almost twice that amount.

Eastern Kentucky used to be the commonwealth’s most productive coalfield, but it ceded that title last year. Western Kentucky now produces more coal, though there are still more working coal miners in Eastern Kentucky.

The future outlook for the industry is bleak, too.

Stricter federal regulations on pollution like mercury from coal-fired power plants, as well as low natural gas prices, have made it more economical for utilities to retire aging coal plants. Some will switch to natural gas. A lot of those plants are in the Southeast, and have bought coal from Kentucky coal mines. The report says that by the end of this year, one-third of the plants that used Kentucky coal in 2011 will have closed. Other closures are expected over the next few years.

Governor Steve Beshear issued a statement in response to the report, stressing the work the state is doing in transitioning coal workers, coal communities and the state’s energy portfolio away from coal:

“The nation’s recent recession, cheaper natural gas, and federal regulatory impediments have hit the coal industry and the Appalachian region especially hard. While overall rural manufacturing and job growth have improved, the region’s number-one industry continues to decline. According to the most recent state coal report, this is the first time we have seen fewer than 10,000 Kentucky coal miners.

My administration and the SOAR initiative have launched a series of robust initiatives to help families and communities weather the changes in our coal sector. We have directed the Energy and Environment Cabinet to identify alternative energy source opportunities in eastern Kentucky, and we continue to work toward building cooperative research and development opportunities with national laboratories based on the Kentucky-Argonne model that would develop clean coal technologies and alternative energy.  We have also been aggressive in maximizing workforce training opportunities to assist coal industry workers to find jobs.

We are committed to our citizens in eastern Kentucky as we work together to build a more diverse economy in the region to help our workers and their families.”

This post has been updated.

 

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.