Assault on Coal Brings High Unemployment to Eastern Kentucky
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Assault on Coal Brings High Unemployment to Eastern Kentucky

Assault on Coal Brings High Unemployment to Eastern Kentucky

“Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket”

By Institute for Energy Research

December 6, 2013

In 2008, Barack Obama explained his energy policy: “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Even regardless of what I say about whether coal is good or bad.” He went on to explain, “So, if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can – it’s just that it will bankrupt them.” Washington Times, June 19, 2012(i)

Anthracite coal, a high value rock from easter...

Anthracite coal, a high value rock from eastern Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2010, after the failure of his cap and trade program, President Obama said there were other ways “to skin the cat.”

Today, these policies are bankrupting coal companies and leading to more unemployment.

Coal is the world’s fastest growing source of energy, but due to the federal government’s assault on coal, and low domestic natural gas prices, coal consumption is declining in the United States.  This is despite the U.S. having the largest proven reserves of coal in the world. Unprecedented pressures on the U.S. coal industry have resulted in nearly two years of mine closures and layoffs, hitting Kentucky the hardest. The picture is bleakest across 26 counties in Kentucky’s eastern coalfields, where coal has been the lifeblood for more than a century. In Eastern Kentucky, coal mine employment has declined by about 30 percent from its 2000-2010 average and coal production has declined by about two-thirds since 2000.

Source: Wall Street Journal,

Kentucky Coal Data

Coal mining jobs in Eastern Kentucky had remained fairly steady at around 11,400 between 2000 and 2011, fluctuating from one quarter to the next by an average of only 400 jobs. Since 2011, coal-mining jobs have declined in eastern Kentucky to 8,000 mining jobs in the second quarter of 2013. There are now fewer miners working in Kentucky than in the 1920s when records were first kept. The number of active coal mines in Eastern Kentucky has declined from an average of 256 in 2011 to 161 in the second quarter of 2013.[ii]

Lower domestic coal consumption has made competition among coal mines strong. It costs electric utilities 40 percent more to use coal from Eastern Kentucky coal fields than coal from Wyoming, for example. While Wyoming coal costs more to transport and does not generate as much electricity per ton, the costs to mine it are less because of its thick coal seams that are surface-mined. In Central Appalachia, the region’s coal seams are thinner, costing $60 to $70 a ton to extract, and less direct rail routes out of eastern Kentucky make its coal more expensive to transport.

Eastern Kentucky mined just 45 million tons in 2012, a drop of 65 percent from the 1990 production level when more than 128 million tons were produced. The 2012 production level was a decline of more than 18 million tons from the production level produced in 2011, the biggest one-year drop in records dating to 1984.

In Kentucky’s Harlan County, the number of mining jobs declined 48 percent between 2011 and June 2013; the county’s unemployment rate had risen to 16.3 percent as of August, the 13th highest of more than 3,000 counties in the nation. As of June 2013, mining jobs were down 54 percent in Letcher County from 2011, with laid-off miners making up nearly half of unemployed workers. In Knott County, mining jobs are down 68 percent from 2011, and the number of laid-off miners is about equal to the county’s unemployed population.

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