“Put our miners back to work.”
That was the promise made by candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election to the coal families in the eastern and western coalfields of Kentucky and throughout Central Appalachia.
Trump rolled up big vote margins in practically all of those communities as laid-off coal miners believed his bold campaign promise of a coal comeback.
Little, if any, mention was made of coal continuing to lose out to cleaner burning, cheaper natural gas as the primary fuel source at electric generating plants, the main consumer of coal.
Instead, former President Obama’s environmental regulations were cited as the reason for more coal-fired generating plants going offline.
Today, almost exactly two years after the promises began, the number of coal jobs continues to decline in Kentucky.
Many of the EPA’s stringent regulations on coal have been gutted by Trump appointees but the industry is struggling to make good on a grandiose promise that looks more and more like a big, cruel lie.
A report published last
week by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet shows that employment is down in both the eastern and western coalfields for the first six months of this year.
Kentucky currently has about 6,200 coal jobs statewide, a far cry from more than 22,000 just a few years ago.
Interestingly, more and more coal is being produced by underground mines rather than surface mining. So far in 2018, 78 percent came from underground and 22 percent from the surface, a shift of 10 percent in the last five years.
Underground coal generally is of higher quality than surface mined coal but is more expensive to recover.
East Kentucky has nearly twice as many coal jobs as West Kentucky but the western coalfield produces 57 percent of the state’s total output.
Union County in West Kentucky passed Pike County in 2012 as the top producing coal county.
In our view, state and federal agencies should focus on retraining programs for unemployed coal miners whose jobs likely are gone forever.