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Coal mining jobs take another tumble in April

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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Some blame the Obama administration’s “war on coal,” others cheap natural gas or falling demand, but one thing is indisputable: Coal mining employment took another tumble in April, shedding 1,600 jobs from the previous month.

Coal mining  now employs 83,600 Americans, down from March’s 85,200 jobs and down from February’s 84,700. A year ago the total stood at 88,500 jobs.

The number of coal mining jobs fell from its 2011 high of more than 91,698 to 88,962 in 2012 — which was still higher than any other year since 2000.

Republicans have recently renewed attacks on the Obama administration’s alleged “war on coal,” saying it has hurt the coal industry and cost jobs.

“After more than four years, it is clear this administration has declared a war on coal,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “You in eastern Kentucky have suffered the most. Coal production in the region is down by nearly 28 percent, the lowest level since Lyndon Johnson was president. As a result, 4,000 miners in eastern Kentucky have lost their jobs — a drop of nearly 30 percent.”

The Kentucky coal industry has been hit hard by EPA regulations and other economic factors that have caused coal mine employment in the state to fall 30 percent since last year. Eastern Kentucky counties have been hit hardest and some have seen coal jobs plummet by more than 60 percent.

However, critics have rejected the notion that there is a war on coal. The environmental group Appalachian Voices reported last month that the average number of coal mining jobs was over 15 percent higher during Obama administration than during the Bush administration — about 88,000 jobs compared to about 76,500 jobs.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has continued to overstep its bounds in its efforts to implement the president’s anti-energy policies,” said West Virginia Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.

Last week, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the EPA and said the agency could revoke a water pollution permit for a coal mine four years after it had been issued. The court said that the Clean Water Act put no time limits on when the EPA could revoke a water pollution permit.

“Not only will this ruling cost West Virginians hundreds of jobs, but it begs the question: Who’s safe? If the EPA can take back a permit from a coal mine in West Virginia, they can do the same to any business in America,” said Capito.

McConnell introduced a bill that would take away such discretion from the EPA by forcing the agency to approve or veto Clean Water Act Section 402 permits within 270 days and Section 404 permits within 90 days of receiving an application. Failing to approve or veto a permit within the time period would mean it is automatically approved.

The bill was met with support from the Kentucky coal industry, but some in the state have come out against it, calling it a “bailout for coal.”

“McConnell’s bill is very deceiving in that it’s even called the Coal Job Protection Act,” said Sue Tallichet, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. “They’re not protecting jobs and miners. They’re protecting profits.”

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