Kentucky coal employment, production declined in last three months

A coal train near Typo Tunnel Lane.
A coal train near Typo Tunnel Lane.

Kentucky coal jobs and production continued down in the second quarter of the year, illustrating the unlikely prospect of a quick turnaround for the industry despite President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to put miners back to work.

Coal mines across the state cut employment by a total of 200 jobs from April 1 through June 30 compared to the first quarter of 2017, or 3 percent, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.

In Eastern Kentucky, employment in the second quarter dropped 5.3 percent compared to the first three months of 2017.

Employment crept up .4 percent in the state’s western coalfield in the second quarter, the report said.

Statewide production in the second quarter was 10.3 million tons, a drop of 9.9 percent from the first quarter of the year.

However, statewide production was up 4.12 percent from April through June when compared to the same period in 2016.

Total second-quarter employment was 2.8 percent lower than during the same period in 2016, however.

The state’s coal industry has taken a beating from a combination of factors, including competition for power-plant customers from cheap natural gas, efforts to beef up environmental protection, the rise of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power and lower-than-expected demand from China.

Relatively high production costs in Eastern Kentucky also have hurt.

In the second quarter of 2011, there were 18,191 coal jobs in Kentucky. That number was down to 6,364 in the second quarter of this year, according to Energy and Environment Cabinet reports.

Trump has repeatedly promised to put coal miners back to work, and his administration has moved to roll back environmental rules imposed by the Obama administration.

Coal interests and supporters blame those environmental rules as the main reason for the industry’s problems, though studies have concluded that competition from natural gas played a more significant role.

Some communities have seen an increase in coal jobs since Trump took office, but the gains have been uneven, and employment is still far lower in most counties than it was a few years ago.

For instance, coal employment climbed to 217 people in the second quarter in Floyd County, an increase of 104 percent from the same period in 2016, the report said.

In the second quarter of 2015, however, the state reported 448 coal jobs in Floyd County.

Analysts have not projected a significant rebound in employment across the country.