Ted Boettner: Market and Ideology Hurt Older Coal Mines
Wall Street Journal - Paul Tice’s “Obama’s Appalachian Tragedy” (Dec. 1) wrongly puts most of the blame for West Virginia’s struggling coal industry and economy on recent clean-air regulations. In reality, the increasing cost of mining harder-to-access coal seams is the primary reason for the decline. Read
Coal-mining productivity has dropped by over 50% in the state over the last 15 years and has lost electricity market share to cheaper Western coal and shale gas. Less than 58% of the coal burned in the state’s power plants came from West Virginia coal mines in 2013, down from 72% in 2001. Today, there are about 15,300 coal miners in West Virginia—about 1,000 more than in 2000.
Losing coal jobs is nothing new in West Virginia. During the 1980s the state saw the number of coal jobs fall by half, and we are long way from the 120,000 we had during the 1940s. This longer-term decline is largely due to mechanization.
West Virginia’s coal-mining communities deserve a brighter future. Congress should act swiftly to support the proposed investments in coal-fields communities that will help diversify the economy and help retool workers for emerging opportunities, while shoring up funding for the health and retirement benefits workers have earned.