Tens of thousands of coal mine and power plant workers have lost their jobs under President Obama, and more layoffs could be on the way as the administration continues to pile on tens of billions of dollars in regulatory costs.
A report by the American Action Forum found that under the Obama administration coal mines shed 3,702 jobs from 2008 to 2013 and power plants shed 39,684 jobs. Coal mine jobs have slid even further since then, from 76,100 in January 2014 to 71,300 last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
AAF argues that over regulation by the EPA and other agencies has burdened the coal industry with billions of dollars in regulatory costs in new clean air and water regulations. Economy-wide AAF argues that for every $1 billion in regulatory costs, industries shed an average of 8,100 jobs.
“Nowhere is this phenomenon more stark than in fossil-fueled power plants and coal mining. Regulators have added more than $10 billion in burdens on this industry since 2011, with the promise of at least $10 billion more in the immediate future,” said Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy at the American Action Forum.
Republicans and some energy experts have argued that Obama administration regulations to clamp down on air pollutants like mercury, smog and fine particulate matter have forced power plant operators to shut down coal-fired power plants across the country. As these plants shut down, coal mines are forced to shed jobs or close.
Most of these job losses are concentrated in just a few coal-heavy states, according to AAF. Kentucky, for example, lost 644 power plant jobs from 2008 to 2103 — a 37 percent reduction in the plant workforce. Coal mines have been hit even harder, losing 5,188 jobs during that time — a 31 percent reduction in the mine workforce.
Republicans have said Obama is waging a “war on coal” due to so many coal plants citing environmental regulations as one of the reasons they are being shut down. Some major coal mines have also cited federal rules as a major reason for closing.
“It is cold comfort for the Obama Administration to suddenly propose easing the pain they’ve helped inflict on so many Kentucky coal families, but anything aimed at aiding these communities should be seriously considered,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement.
“The best way to help these Kentuckians is to prevent anti-coal efforts in the first place, which is one reason I’ve joined the Senate subcommittee charged with overseeing spending at the anti-coal EPA,” McConnell said.
According to the Energy Information Administration, some 60 gigawatts of coal-fired power could be shuttered by 2020. Most of these shut downs will happen by the end of this year before the EPA Mercury Air Toxics Standards go into effect.
Coal plant retirements could be accelerated even further when the EPA finalizes its carbon dioxide emissions rule for existing power plants. This rule requires states to reduce carbon emissions in the power sector 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The agency estimates an additional 46 to 49 gigawatts of coal power will be removed.
The Obama administration and environmentalists, however, say recent and pending EPA rules are necessary to protect public health and fight global warming. Power plants account for one-third of all carbon emissions in the U.S., says EPA, and reducing these emissions while increasing energy efficiency can result in 8 percent savings after 2030.
The EPA also argues that its regulations are just building upon existing market forces, like cheap natural gas and increased automation, that are lowering demand for coal power.
“Coal use in the power sector is declining due to multiple factors: Booming natural gas production, declining costs for renewable energy, increases in energy efficiency, flattening electricity demand, and updated clean air standards are changing the way electricity is generated and used across the country,” an EPA spokeswoman told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
President Obama’s 2016 budget proposal also includes $55 million for job retraining for laid off coal industry workers. The funds have been praised by some coal state Democrats who say it will help thousands of families that are hurting.
“These trends are producing cleaner air, lower energy bills for families and businesses, new industries, and healthier families,” the spokeswoman added. “But the fact is that the decline in coal jobs began well before President Obama took office, largely as a result of market forces.
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