Some congressional representatives claim that federal oversight of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia threatens domestic coal production and the regions coal mining jobs, but new government data indicates the opposite is true.
Data released by the Mine Safety and Health Administration show that the number of jobs at Appalachian coal mines in the first three quarters of 2011 is at its highest level since 1997. In contrast to previous predictions by coal industry supporters, the number of miners in Appalachia has increased by six percent since the Obama Administration announced plans to strengthen the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s scrutiny of mountaintop removal permits in June of 2009.
Since the April 2010 issuance of an interim guidance on surface mine permitting in Appalachia by the EPA, the number of Appalachian miners has grown by 10 percent. Based on this correlation, environmental groups contend that strengthened enforcement of mine safety and environmental rules is creating jobs in Appalachia.
Congress has held numerous hearings this year suggesting that government regulation of surface mining leads to fewer mining jobs. A Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing in November involved legislation introduced by Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH) called the “Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Energy Infrastructure Protection Act.” Johnson’s bill would stop the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement from rewriting the federal stream buffer zone rule. The bill would also greatly restrict the surface mining agency’s ability to regulate coal mines by prohibiting it from tak- ing any actions that would reduce coal mine employment, reduce the amount of coal available for mining, consumption, or export, or designate an area as unsuitable for surface mining techniques such as mountaintop removal.
Some members of Congress have claimed that deregulation of coal mining is necessary to increase domestic coal production. But, according to the Federal Reserve data released in November, the capacity of active and permitted coal mines is the highest it has been in 25 years. At the same time, coal mine capacity is being utilized at its lowest rate in 25 years.