Rural Blog: Coal’s future still bleak as utilities shift to cheaper natural gas, wind and solar power options

“A year after Donald Trump was elected president on a promise to revive the ailing U.S. coal industry, the sector’s long-term prospects for growth and hiring remain as bleak as ever,” Timothy Gardner reports for Reuters. “A Reuters review of mining data shows an industry that has seen only modest gains in jobs and production this year – much of it from a temporary uptick...

Mitch McConnell: Kentucky now has friend at EPA, but work for coal jobs, families must continue

Under President Obama, the EPA didn’t want to come anywhere near Kentucky coal country. Now, the people of Kentucky finally have a friend at the head of the EPA. I was proud when Administrator Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to lead the agency, accepted my invitation to come back to his native Kentucky in his professional capacity. In Hazard – the heart of coal country – I stood shoulder-to-shoulder...

Even in decline, coal remains important factor in powering America, industry executive says

By Tom Latek Kentucky Today Coal remains an important part of America’s power generating system, according to a group that represents electric companies, coal producers, railroads and manufacturers, called “The Coal Fleet.” Paul Bailey, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, appeared before the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources...

Rural Blog: Famous for hauling coal, CSX president says company won’t buy any more coal trains

If you live in Appalachia, CSX trains carrying coal down the rails has been an everyday sight. But CSX’s new president thinks that may soon be a thing of the past. During a conference call with industry analysts last week, Hunter Harrison said he thinks “fossil fuels are dead” and the company will not buy any more locomotives for coal trains, Gregory Meyer reports for Financial Times....

Rural Blog: U.S. coal use to generate electricity falls to lowest level since 1984, EIA report says

Coal consumption for electric power in the U.S. has fallen to its lowest since 1984, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Natural gas is a cleaner, more flexible fuel, and has become cheaper; economists say that makes coal, compared to gas, the most expensive in 40 years. The EIA Today in Energy report released Friday showed that in 2016, coal consumption has dropped 35 percent...

Rural Blog: Competition from natural gas, not federal regulations, behind collapse of coal industry

Obama administration regulations are not solely to blame for coal’s decline, says a study by Columbia University researchers. Researchers found that “competition from cheap natural gas is responsible for 49 percent of the decline in domestic U.S. coal consumption.” They also say “changes in the global coal market have played a far greater role in the collapse of the U.S. coal...

Rural Blog: Appalachian youth have no loyalty to coal, seek alternatives to stay home, CSM reports

Teddy Martin, a former Eastern Kentucky coal miner who teaches at a vocational school in Hindman, is trying to teach Appalachian youth that there is a promising future in the region that does not revolve around coal, Zack Colman reports for The Christian Science Monitor. Martin “hopes that learning trades will allow his students to stay in Hindman after they graduate, and perhaps start businesses...

Rural Blog: Coal industry seeing modest growth in jobs, but is it enough to qualify as a revival?

The coal industry, has been mechanizing, automating and losing jobs for decades, saw a modest gain recently, notes Justin Fox of Bloomberg News. The industry has gained 1,700 jobs since September, and added 100 jobs in March, growing to 50,300. While the numbers are positive, they aren’t big enough to signal a resurgence of coal, Fox writes. (Bloomberg chart: Seasonally adjusted employment in...

Rural Blog: McConnell reverses course, supports $1 billion plan to assist struggling coal regions

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has signed on to legislation to free up $1 billion in reclamation projects in Eastern Kentucky and other struggling coal regions, a measure he was not willing to endorse last year. “U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican whose district includes the state’s eastern coalfield, introduced a similar proposal in February 2016 as a way of boosting areas...

Rural Blog: Despite hopes in Appalachia that Trump will bring back coal, outside experts remain skeptical

A “Frontline” segment on the PBS NewsHour took a look at the prospects for President Trump fulfilling his campaign promise to “get those miners back to work” in Appalachia, which was home to 87 percent of the coal jobs that have been lost since 2011. Economists and energy experts remain skeptical, but those in the coal industry are hopeful. Trump won every county in West Virginia...

Daily Yonder: Foreman exam included an unexpected hurdle — a high speed trip over mountain roads

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The mine foreman exam covers subjects like ventilation, explosives, electrical, laws and regulations, and safety. To complete his exam, Gary has to pass one more section: driving at high speed on mountain roads. After the accident in which a snapped cable slashed Tracy across his throat, he was out of work indefinitely. I visited Tracy in the hospital just a few...

Commentary: Congress, White House working together to bring relief to coal country

By Mitch McConnell Special to KyForward As the Obama administration packed its boxes and prepared to leave office, the former president took a parting shot at Appalachian coal communities, who have already been some of the areas most hurt by his coal policies. After eight years of anti-coal executive actions, the Obama administration added insult to injury with its Stream Buffer Rule. This regulation...

Rural Blog: Unmined coal worth less, leaving Kentucky coalfield schools short on funding

School districts in Kentucky’s two coalfields are suffering due to a decline in tax assessments of unmined coal, which presumably has become less valuable because coal is losing market share to natural gas. Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt said that the decrease “will have a significant impact on at least 12 school districts, mostly in Eastern Kentucky, and their local...

Bill Straub: Politicians lining up to eliminate the EPA have strong Kentucky ties in common

WASHINGTON – Kentucky is piecing together a strong contingent of volunteers ready and willing to do battle with raging hordes of tree-huggers and scientists in the ongoing War on the Environment, emerging proudly as the modern embodiment of F Troop. The commonwealth’s defenders are firmly fixed along an ecological Maginot Line in the battle against those who would foist potable water and breathable...

Rural Blog: Coal production down sharply in 2016; Wyoming still No. 1, but Kentucky drops to 4th

The national decline in coal production and employment continues, but with differing effects among the states. Wyoming was still the biggest coal producer in 2016, and West Virginia remained No. 2, but Illinois supplanted Kentucky at No. 3. Like other leading states, Wyoming faced incredible lows in 2016. Coal production in the Powder River Basin in 2016 reached its lowest levels in 20 years, reports...

Rural Blog: McConnell says environmental rules, not natural gas, mainly to blame for coal downturn

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a letter he sent to President-elect Donald Trump proposing ways the incoming administration can revitalize the region’s coal industry. McConnell, who has blamed President Obama for coal’s downfall, said environmental regulations are largely to blame for the downturn in the industry and that natural gas is not the solution to the nation’s...

Coal billionaire Justice agrees to pay $900,000 penalty for polluting rivers, largely in Kentucky

Southern Coal billionaire owner Jim Justice, the Democratic nominee for governor of West Virginia, has agreed to pay a $900,000 civil penalty to settle allegations that his company’s mining operations “illegally polluted Appalachian rivers and streams,” Jeff Sturgeon reports for The Roanoke Times. Federal officials said they documented 23,693 violations, largely in Kentucky (nearly...

Alpha Natural Resources announces it will close its last active mine due to depressed market

An Eastern Kentucky coal mine is expected to be idled in November, resulting in the loss of 117 jobs. Karla Ward reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader that Steve Hawkins, spokesperson for Alpha Natural Resources, said the Process Energy Mine in Pike County (Wikipedia map) will go idle on Nov. 7. Hawkins said the mine, the company’s last active one in Kentucky, is being shuttered “based upon...

Eastern Kentucky challenged with demographic issues in search for new jobs, study says

“Eastern Kentucky is shedding population through a combination of out-migration and deaths that are outpacing births, circumstances that have accelerated as the coal industry has declined,” says Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland policy analyst Matt Klesta. And those who are entering the region are often poorly educated, low-wage earners, and/or not in the labor force, according to Klesta’s analysis...

Rural Blog: Burning of coal to generate electricity down in all but two states

From 2007 to 2015 the amount of coal burned to make steam to generate electricity fell in every state except Alaska and Nebraska, after peaking about a decade ago, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a recent report, Benjamin Hulac and Elizabeth Harball report for ClimateWire. “Combustion of steam coal reached its apex in 2007, but it has declined nationwide 29 percent since then,...