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Kentucky's Coal Industry Jobs Hit Lowest Point Since 1927

Coal production in both of Kentucky’s coalfields has dropped slightly and employment is at a record low, according to the most recent quarterly report from the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet. The commonwealth produced nearly 20.5 million tons of coal in the second quarter of 2013, which represents a 1.3 percent drop from the first quarter of the year.

There was a slight drop in both the eastern and western Kentucky coalfields, but western Kentucky still produced slightly more coal—50.2 percent of the total production.

The data estimates there are 12,342 coal miners employed in the state—the lowest since the state began keeping records in 1927. That number represents a loss of 851 jobs, but the losses weren’t even among the coalfields. Eastern Kentucky lost jobs, while Western Kentucky’s coal industry grew slightly.

Eastern Kentucky coal mines reduced total employment by 916 persons, or 14.4 percent, in the second quarter of 2013. During the two years since July 2011, total employment at Eastern Kentucky coal mines has fallen by 5,725 or 41.9% percent. Coal mines in Western Kentucky increased total employment by 65 jobs, or 1.5 percent, during the second quarter of 2013. During the past two years, Western Kentucky mining employment fell by 105 jobs, or 2.3 percent.

This data is only the latest in a multi-year trend of falling production and unemployment, fueled by a variety of diverse and complicated factors like stricter pollution regulations, cheap and abundant natural gas and the decline of easily-accessible reserves. As the data notes, total Kentucky coal production has fallen by 25 percent in the past two years. The state’s highest recorded coal production was in 1990; it’s fallen 52 percent since then.

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