Compared to 2011, 2012 saw Kentucky coal face some alarming set-backs:
- Total jobs lost, 4,028.
- Mining employment, down 22 percent.
- Underground mining employment, down 15.4 percent.
- Surface mining employment, down 34.8 percent.
- Eastern Kentucky mining employment, down 29.9 percent.
- Total production was 91.4 million tons, down 16.3 percent.
- Eastern Kentucky production, down 27.6 percent.
Though eastern Kentucky’s coal fields suffered significant losses in 2012, western Kentucky’s productive outlook was not nearly as dire:
- Western Kentucky mining employment, no change.
- Western Kentucky production, up 2.5 percent.
The reason for the discrepancy between the productive performance of Kentucky’s western and eastern coal fields last year is that, after decades of mining, Appalachian coal has become increasingly difficult to extract. Further, now that most power plants have installed scrubbers and other emission deterrents, western Kentucky coal – which contains a higher sulfur content – is now economically viable.
But the over-arching reasons for the downturn in Kentucky’s energy sector last year are simple: increasingly stringent EPA regulations are making the rise of natural gas and the fall of coal permanent. What’s worse, the EPA has specifically targeted eastern Kentucky’s coal fields to block mining permits and bring a halt to millions of dollars of economic activity.
No wonder eastern Kentucky was his so hard in 2012.