Steady Growth in U.S. Coal Jobs Debunks Industry’s “War on Coal” Claim

April 9, 2013
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Matt Wasson, Director of Programs, 828-262-1500,
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-953-8672 (cell),
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Washington, D.C. – The number of coal mining jobs nationally in 2011 and 2012 were at the highest level in the last 15 years, contrary to the industry’s oft-repeated accusations that the Obama administration is waging a “war on coal,” according to an analysis released today by Appalachian Voices. Using data from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, the organization finds that the average number of coal mining jobs under the Obama administration is 15.3 percent higher than under the Bush administration.

The group released the analysis prior to Thursday’s scheduled confirmation hearing for the president’s nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, where the industry is expected to once again attack the agency’s efforts over the past several years to institute public health and environmental protections from coal-based energy.

Read the report: Growth of U.S. Coal Jobs

“These numbers show pretty clearly that the purported ‘war on coal’ is an utter fabrication,” says Matt Wasson, director of programs at Appalachian Voices. “Even as this administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are making some important steps toward controlling coal pollution — from mining, burning, and burying the waste — the job numbers nationwide have been growing.”

While the data show some variations among coal-producing states, each of the top ten has had more mining jobs on average under the Obama administration than under the Bush administration. Nine of those states saw higher coal mining employment in 2012 than at any point during the Bush years.

Wasson attributes this trend to an increase in coal exports coupled with a decrease in productivity, or amount of coal mined per worker, due largely to harder-to-reach coal seams. According to the Energy Information Agency, coal exports in the fourth quarter of 2012 were higher than the previous five-year range. Meanwhile, productivity has declined 30% since its peak in 2000. Increased underground mining explains some of the job increases, as it requires more workers per unit of production compared to mountaintop removal and other forms of surface mining.

The trend is particularly evident in Central Appalachia, where coal mining jobs increased from 28,552 in 2000 to 33,029 in 2012 (+16%) despite total coal production decreasing from 264 million short tons to 147 million short tons in the same period (-44%).

“We continue to hear industry’s cries that environmental regulations are unfair and costly. The fact is, the costs have always been there, only they’ve been borne by the people living in coal-impacted communities who can’t drink their water, who are breathing polluted air, who are suffering from cancer and heart disease,” says Wasson.


Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.