coal jobs

Kentucky Leads The Country In 2020 Coal Retirements

Jan 21, 2020
Erica Peterson

Two of the largest coal-fired power plant retirements in the U.S. in 2020 are happening in Kentucky.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise Unit 3 near Drakesboro is scheduled to shutter this December while Owensboro’s Elmer Smith Generating Station will cease operations in June.

These older, more inefficient power plants are the latest to be priced out of the market, and are now trudging toward the elephant graveyard of legacy coal-fired plants in the Ohio Valley.

Together, power generation from the two plants represents more than a quarter of the total coal-fired capacity set to retire this year, based on an analysis using U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

Peabody Energy, Inc., via Wikimedia Commons

Westmoreland Coal Company, one of the oldest mining companies in the country, became the second major coal bankruptcy of the Trump presidency Tuesday when the company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a Texas court.

The company, which has a substantial presence in the Ohio Valley, has for years faced mounting difficulties as it continued to take on debt while many of the power plants that used its coal announced they intend to close or switch to cleaner fuels.


paringaresources.com

The CEO of a company behind a new coal mine project in McLean County, Kentucky has resigned. The announcement from the Australian mining company Paringa Resources said managing director and CEO Grant Quasha is resigning as of June 18 to “pursue another opportunity.”

Quasha said in a Fox Business TV interview in September 2017 that the election of President Donald Trump has “ended the war on coal” and allowed Paringa to raise 40 million U.S. dollars in financing in the Australian equity markets, in addition to $20 million in project financing from Macquarie Bank in Australia for construction of the McLean County mine that will produce thermal coal for regional utilities. The mine is in what’s called “the Illinois Basin.” 


Erica Peterson

After being name-checked in two of President Donald Trump’s recent speeches, a new coal mine opened in Pennsylvania last week.

“Next week we’re opening a big coal mine,” Trump told supporters in Cincinnati. “You know about that. One in Pennsylvania. It’s actually a new mine. That hadn’t happen in a long time, folks. But we’re putting the people and we’re putting the miners back to work.”

The mine in Somerset County, Pennsylvania is expected to employ about 70 coal miners. But while it may be cause for local celebration and useful for political rhetoric, it isn’t a harbinger of what’s to come in Kentucky.

Becca Schimmel

Thousands of retired coal miners will rally in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to urge Congress to shore up a fund that supports their pensions and benefits. Area lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were at the National Press Club in Washington to speak in support of the Miner’s Protection Act.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin called for an immediate markup and passage of the bill in the Senate Finance Committee, where it has been bottled up for most of the year. Manchin wants Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, to work together to pass the bill.  

All we’re asking for is the compassion to do the right thing, fulfill the commitment, a promise that was made,” Manchin said.

Manchin is referring to a pledge dating to the 1940s, when Congress intervened in a national coal strike and established a health and welfare fund for miners. The agreement used royalties on coal production to create a retirement fund for miners and their dependents in cases of sickness, disability, death and retirement.

Report: Kentucky Coal Jobs Hit Lowest Level Since 1898

Aug 4, 2016
Erica Peterson

Officials believe there are fewer coal jobs in Kentucky than there have been in more than 115 years.

News outlets report that a quarterly report from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet reveals that the number of coal jobs statewide dropped by 6.9 percent from April to June of this year.

In western Kentucky, coal jobs dropped 7.9 percent in the second quarter of 2016 while the number of jobs in the state's eastern region dropped 6.1 percent during that same time.

As of July 1, the estimated number of coal jobs remaining in Kentucky was 6,465, which officials say is the lowest mark since 1898.

A switch to natural gas, stricter federal regulations on coal designed to preserve the environment and the advance of renewable energy have contributed to the industry's plunge.

Tennessee Valley Authority

The number of coal jobs in Kentucky continue to decline.  A report from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet says the number of jobs statewide dropped by 6.9 percent.

In Western Kentucky, coal jobs dropped 7.9 percent from April to June. The amount of coal produced in that region declined 12.3 percent. Production in the state’s eastern coalfield is the lowest it’s been since 1915.

Kentucky now has less miners than in 1898, before the extension of railroads allowed for explosive growth in production and jobs in Eastern Kentucky.

Analysts say there are a number of reasons for the decline, including competition for power-plant customers from cheap natural gas; tougher federal rules to protect air and water quality and the growth of renewable energy sources.

Becca Schimmel

White signs advocating for the protection of pension and healthcare benefits were waived at a United Mine Workers of America rally in Lexington Tuesday. An estimated 4,000 miners, retirees, and family members filled the city’s convention center. They gathered to demand that Congress pass legislation protecting pensions and health care benefits for miners and their families.

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said miners have earned what they’ve been promised.

“We have stood up for America and it’s time America stood up for us! America owes us! And we will collect on that debt!” Roberts told the crowd.

Miners could lose their retirement benefits this fall if Congress doesn’t act. Roberts says union members will march on Washington D.C. and risk being arrested if that’s what it takes. He told miners to go home and find at least five others that would be willing to rally at the nation’s capital.

Spouse Becky Gardner says she wants what the miners were promised.

Creative Commons

The U.S Department of Labor has funded a grant worth $3.4 million to help retrain out-of-work coal miners in Kentucky.

Shuttering coal mines have left thousands of miners in the state without a job, many of them in eastern Kentucky.

The Department of Labor says in a release the supplemental funding of the National Dislocated Worker Grant provides re-employment services and training for nearly 800 workers in Kentucky .

The recent additional funding brings the program to a total of more than $17 million since 2013, serving a total of 3,200 dislocated workers.

The services are provided by the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, based in Hazard. The program serves 23 Appalachian counties in Kentucky.

Sam Owens/Getty Images via NPR

All over eastern Kentucky, you see cars and pickup trucks with black license plates proclaiming the owner is a “friend of coal.”

Even though the license plates are all over, it’s getting harder to find actual coal miners here: Fewer than 6,000 remain in the state, where the coal industry is shrinking fast. More than 10,000 coal workers have been laid off since 2008.

Many have had to leave the area to find work, but a few have found employment in other — and sometime unexpected — fields, as businesses are innovating to use former coal workers in new ways.

Rusty Justice’s company is one of these.

“The realization I had was that the coal miner, although we think of him as a person who gets dirty and works with his hands, really coal mines today are very sophisticated, and they use a lot of technology, a lot of robotics,” says Justice, who has worked in the coal industry all his life.

Erica Peterson

Kentucky’s latest quarterly coal data continues a trend of bad news for the state’s coal industry.

The report released Monday by the Energy and Environment Cabinet shows in the fourth quarter of 2015, the state’s coal production dropped by more than 20 percent from 2014 levels. This puts Kentucky coal production at the lowest its been since 1954. Eastern Kentucky took the largest hit, losing a quarter of its capacity between 2014 and 2015.

With the decreased coal production came layoffs. More than 3,200 coal miners were laid off last year, with 1,000 losing their jobs in the fourth quarter of 2015 alone. As of December 31, 2015, there were only about 8,400 working coal miners in Kentucky.

And it seems unlikely that the industry has bottomed out. The report noted that most of Kentucky’s coal — 85 percent — goes to generate electricity at power plants in the Southeast. Three percent of that went to coal plants that retired in 2015. Another 13 percent went to plants that have announced their plans to retire units before 2019.

Coal jobs in Kentucky declined sharply in the first quarter of this year, according to the state’s latest quarterly coal report.

As of April 1, there were an estimated 10,356 people employed at Kentucky coal mines. That’s a decrease of 1,230 jobs—or 10.6 percent—from Jan. 1. And the job losses weren’t limited to Eastern Kentucky, where market conditions and power plant retirements have hit hardest. Western Kentucky coal mines shed 13.7 percent of coal jobs during the quarter, while the Eastern Kentucky coal workforce decreased by 8.7 percent.

And these numbers will likely decline further. Division for Energy Development and Independence Assistant Director Aron Patrick said there are several hundred layoffs pending that will likely be reflected in the next quarterly report.

Coal production in both basins decreased too. Kentucky mines produced only about 16.6 million tons of coal in this quarter. For Eastern Kentucky, production is only a third of what it was in 2008.

Kentucky’s coal production and employment dropped only slightly in 2014, but sharper declines are likely in the future.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet released its quarterly coal report for the fourth quarter of 2014 today. Preliminary data suggest the state produced 3.7 percent less coal in 2014 than in 2013. Coal employment declined by 2.8 percent over the same time period.

The declines are less stark than they were a year ago. In 2013, the Energy and Environment Cabinet estimated that the state had lost 2,300 coal jobs. In 2014, 317 jobs were lost. But these losses add to the troubles the coal industry has faced recently. The fourth quarter of 2014 is the 14th consecutive quarter where coal employment has declined in the state, and Eastern Kentucky’s coal production in 2014 was only about 41 percent of what it produced as recently as 2008.