Front Porch Blog

“War on Coal” Claims are a War on Reality

By Melanie Foley
Legislative Policy and Research Assistant, Summer 2013

A national average of 88,152 coal mining jobs under President Obama represents a 15 percent increase from the average under the Bush administration of 76,470. Graph by Appalachian Voices

The coal industry and the members of Congress who depend on its support have accused President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of waging a “war on coal.” Industry supporters argue that limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants and increased scrutiny of mountaintop removal mining permits are killing jobs. But the numbers show that, aside from being a tired rhetorical trope, the “war on coal” is also a myth.

This week, Appalachian Voices released an analysis of the latest data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration that reveals the fallacy behind “war on coal” claims. An average of 88,152 coal mining jobs under Obama represents a 15 percent increase from the Bush average of 76,470. Employment in 2011 and 2012 was the highest two-year period in 15 years. Each of the top 10 coal-producing states have seen more jobs on average under Obama than under Bush, and nine of those states saw higher employment in 2012 than at any point during the Bush years.

One of the main factors contributing to the employment increase is a decrease in productivity. Coal is growing scarce and difficult to reach, especially in Appalachia, and it takes more miners than it once did to mine the same amount of coal. Since its peak in 2000, productivity has declined 30 percent. Increased underground mining explains some of this decline since it requires more workers than large-scale surface mining methods such as mountaintop removal.

This trend is particularly evident in Central Appalachia, where coal mining jobs have increased from 28,552 in 2000 to 33,029 in 2012 (+16%) despite total coal production decreasing from 264 million to 147 million short tons (-44%) over the same period. (More information on Appalachian states is available in the report.)

If there is one thing we can count on, it’s that the long and not-so-glorious tradition of the fossil fuel industry refusing to engage in open, honest, fact-based discussion will continue. In the words of West Virginia Coal Association vice president Chris Hamilton, our report — compiled using data from MSHA, the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy — is “a very shoddy analysis” by a “well-known environmental extremist group.”

This timely report should prove useful on Thursday, when the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets to discuss the nomination of Gina McCarthy for EPA Administrator. Some suspect (or hope) that the nomination of this long-time civil servant and clean air champion is a sign of Obama’s intent to do something serious about climate change. As a result, she is likely to face tough questioning on fossil fuels from Republicans and some Democrats on the committee.

Appalachian Voices staff will be at the hearing with our report in hand to dispel the myth of the “war on coal.” Follow us @AppVoices for a live-tweeting of the event.


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