May 2, 2016 Read More →

With 1,500 Recent Layoffs, Kentucky Coal-Industry Employment Falls to Lowest Level Since 1898

Bill Estep for the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Kentucky’s coal industry continued to hemorrhage jobs in the first three months of 2016, hitting the lowest level in more than a century.

The number of jobs dropped by a little more than 1,500 during the quarter. There were an estimated 6,900 people employed at coal mines as of April 1, the lowest number since 1898, according to a report released Monday by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Coal industry employment dropped 21.8 percent in Eastern Kentucky and 12.2 percent in the state’s western coalfield. The coal jobs decline statewide was 17.9 percent, according to the report.

The statewide decline was the biggest in a single quarter since the state began releasing quarterly reports in 2012.

Production numbers were equally bleak in the first three months of the year. Statewide, companies mined 12.8 percent less coal.

Production plunged 21.6 percent in Eastern Kentucky. The drop in Western Kentucky was far less, at 5.7 percent.

Job and production numbers for Western Kentucky could continue to fall in the second quarter.

In Eastern Kentucky, preliminary numbers show that Perry County edged out Pike County as the region’s biggest coal producer in early 2016, according to the report.

Pike County was the state’s top producer from 1978 through 2011, but it was displaced in 2012 by Union County.

The current production in Pike County is 89 percent lower than at its peak in 1996, the report said.

A number of factors have combined to drive down demand for coal, including competition from natural gas and tougher federal rules to protect air and water quality, which create an advantage for natural gas over coal.

Eastern Kentucky also faces particular challenges because many of the thickest seams have been mined out. Remaining seams cost more to mine. The region’s product also competes with cheaper coal from elsewhere in the country.

Full article: 1,500 coal jobs lost in 1st quarter; total is lowest in 118 years

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