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Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
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Frank Bernheisel
Posted 03.06.17
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL

Coal Regulation Scuttled

President Trump has overturned the regulation that would prevent dumping of coal mining debris into nearby streams. He called it a "job-killing rule" before he signed the order to overturn it. Members of Congress from coal-mining states, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV stood around grinning.

President Trump is trying live up to his pledge to coal miners about bringing their jobs back. As he told them in the campaign: "Get ready, because you're going to be working your asses off." But, President Trump has a problem -- employment in coal mining has been declining for years, due to the change away from shaft mining to strip mining and to mountaintop removal [see chart]. Further, fracking and cheap gas delivered the knockout punch to coal -- gas power plants are cheap to build compared to coal power plants.

chart

Coal mining jobs have been declining for years. In Kentucky, by 1992, mining jobs in had fallen below 20,000, and by 2004 were just above 13,000. Mining jobs increased somewhat until 2012 [see Federal Reserve chart], due to rising global demand for coal only to decline more recently due to the recession.

According to the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, in 2008, these jobs amount to only 1 percent of the employment in the Mitch McConnell/Rand Paul state, as shown in the chart below. And based on the general trend shown in the FRED chart, is estimated to be below that in 2017.

chart

In West Virginia, by 2000 mining jobs in had fallen about 12,000. By 2007 they increased somewhat to almost 20,000, due to rising global demand for coal only to decline more recently due to the recession falling to 15,000 in 2015, according to West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. While there were only two deaths to West Virginia coal miners in 2015, there were over 700 injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 there were 707,000 people employed in all occupations in West Virginia, which means that coal mining jobs amount to only 2 percent of the employment in the Joe Manchin/Shelley Moore Capito State.

The decline of coal mining jobs in Kentucky and West Virginia has occurred even though coal production has remained steady at about one billion tons per year. This decline is because the mining technology has changed from underground mines with shafts and little trains to mountain top removal.

With mountain top removal, instead of a shaft being cut into the mountain to reach the coal seam, the entire top of the mountain is cut off to reach the coal. This takes lots of machinery and few workers. The environmental damage of this approach is done when the top of the mountain is dumped into the valley where it impacts streams and rivers. Google it for images.

For years, no politician has done anything for the people of these communities as the jobs disappeared, the environment was destroyed, and their health declined. A visit to an Appalachian community makes this clear. The ex-miners could be "working their asses off" if President Trump keeps his promise: "Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our very, very beautiful land". And ex-coal miners might need a little help with recruiting and training.

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