Energy

Mine Jobs Are Returning To Coal Country, But There’s A Long Road To Recovery

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

The federal government’s latest jobs report shows 2,500 coal mining jobs were created in the last year, which is good news for coal country, but there’s still a long road to complete recovery.

The coal industry has lost 36,700 mining jobs since January 2012 the last time mine employment peaked. A series of coal plant closures driven by environmental regulations and low-priced natural gas caused demand to collapse, forcing mines to close.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates 53,000 coal miners were hard at work in April 2018, about 2,500 more than one year ago when 51,500 miners were employed. BLS said overall U.S. unemployment shrunk to 3.9 percent, the lowest in about 18 years.

FRED_Coal

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics/ Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

President Donald Trump promised to revitalize coal country during the 2016 campaign. His administration has cut environmental regulations seen as hampering the coal industry, and top officials have put forward proposals to keep coal plants from closing down.

Overall mining employment, including oil and gas and support activities, has boomed in the last year, growing from 612,300 jobs in April 2017 to 679,400 jobs in April 2018.

Coal mine production rose in 2017 due to overseas demand. Exports grew 70 percent during the first three quarters of 2017, largely because of growing demand in Asia. The global economy is also improving, which also increases demand.

The latest statistics from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) suggests productions is slightly down, but not by much. More coal plant closures are expected this year, according to EIA, but coal’s share of electricity generation is projected to hover around 30 percent.

Many experts attribute the rebound in coal mining to overall economic conditions. However, a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) credited Trump administration policies for brightening coal’s prospects.

“Measures introduced by the Federal government provided optimism to the sector,” IEA reported in 2017.

“Some regulations were reviewed and the financial environment for coal mining improved,” IEA reported. “The country’s first new coal mine since 2011 was opened in May and other projects were announced.”

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