A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: With King Coal’s reign about over in the Commonwealth (and elsewhere), it’s on to natural gas

To paraphrase that great American intellectual, Sarah Palin, how is that beautiful, clean coal stuff working out for ya? Well, not so hot, thanks. Cloud Peak Energy, the nation’s third-largest coal mining company, headquartered in Wyoming, where the mineral is still as plentiful as kudzu in Georgia, has filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. It was one of the last of the nation’s big energy players...

Pew Trusts: Former Kentucky mining towns embrace change, turn to tourism in wake of coal’s decline

By April Simpson Pew Charitable Trusts The same Main Street winds through the old mountain mining towns of Cumberland, Benham and Lynch, crosses a river and runs alongside a creek. The early 20th-century coal mining boom drew people to this remote corner of southeast Kentucky until coal’s dizzying decline sent them away. Today, Main Street hints at a roaring past and the potential for change. Poor...

Kentucky’s groundwater pollution resulting from coal ash ranks among worst in U.S., new report shows

By Nadia Ramlagan Public News Service A power plant outside of Louisville ranks among the top 10 most polluted in the country for groundwater contamination by coal ash, according to a new report. Coal ash is the toxic leftover byproduct of burning coal, and coal plants produce millions of tons of it each year. The study by the Environmental Integrity Project and the environmental law firm Earthjustice...

Tyler White: Don’t burden coal country with a tax increase on the industry; coal needs to compete

Black Lung is a terrible disease. Just one case is a case too many. All miners who suffer from black lung must receive the benefits they deserve.  These are indisputable facts. But we need to ensure the systems in place to secure benefits for those who need them are the right solutions. Handled incorrectly, future funding for The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund could do unintended damage...

Bill Straub: The Napoleon of coal (good, beautiful, clean) coal is just playing along and enjoying the joke

There are many good things that can be said about coal. For decades, even centuries, in the United States it helped keep homes warm in the winter. Coal brought electricity to even the most remote regions of the country and, it should be noted, helped spur the economic revolution that truly made America great. But beautiful? Coal is a substance that ravages regions where it’s uncovered, dirties...

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...