Click here for a pdf of the Kentucky Coal Production Update from the Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence.
Staggering Job Loss in Eastern Kentucky Coal Industry Intensifies Need for Economic Change
April 2, 2013
BEREA, KY — Eastern Kentucky lost more than 4,000 coal jobs in 2012 while production in the region has plummeted to its lowest levels since 1965, according to new data from the Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence. This staggering decline sharpens the critical need for new development efforts and ideas in the coalfields.
"We recognize the serious hardship that these layoffs mean for many workers and communities in the region. It is abundantly clear that Eastern Kentucky needs strong leadership and more focus on growing a different economy," said Justin Maxson, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development with offices in Berea, Hazard and Paintsville. "Piecemeal investments and disjointed policies are not real solutions. Eastern Kentucky has many of the building blocks for a stronger, homegrown economy — through strategies like entrepreneurship, and more support for sectors like forestry, agriculture, tourism, health care and energy efficiency to name a few — but they require real investment and forward looking leadership."
While Central Appalachian coal production has been in decline since the 1990's, the rate at which it is dropping has increased. The federal Energy Information Administration estimates that thermal coal production in Central Appalachia will drop 70.8 percent from its 2011 level by 2020. At the same time, Western Kentucky coal production is growing, increasing by 2.5 percent last year, with employment levels remaining steady. Union County, in the western coalfields, has now become the state's largest coal producer.
The high sulfur content of Western Kentucky coal, which once gave Appalachian coal an advantage, is increasingly irrelevant due to modern pollution control devices at coal-fired power plants. Additionally, Central Appalachian coal is becoming more expensive to mine due to diminishing reserves, while natural gas is now a cheaper and more competitive alternative to coal for many power producers.
"With even some in the coal industry acknowledging that this decline is potentially permanent, our elected officials must commit to the hard and vital work of growing a stronger economy that works for more people in the region," Maxson said.