If anyone out there in coal country thinks this "so-called war on coal" is merely a bump in the road, or is sitting back on the front porch thinking "this has happened before we'll have another coal boom in 5 to 6 years", well, you are sadly mistaken.
This decline in coal production is historical, its not some natural cycle of rising and lowering of electricity production prices and stockpiles. Coal produced 51% of the Nation's energy in 2008, it produces 36%, likely 35% by now, in 2013. A huge 16% decline, and a 32 to 35 % in the domestic energy market. Tack on another 5 to 7.5% in the decline ....
of coal being used to clean iron ore, or used, in the form of coke, to produce steel. Basically the coal industry has lost close, if not more than, 40% of its domestic customer base since 2008. Tougher environmental laws coupled with the shale fracking boom in natural gas have all but annihilated coal. No industry could survive losing 40%, or more, of its domestic customer base.
Coal jobs are at their lowest since 1927 and for the first time in history (according to 1st and 2nd quarter production reports) Western Kentucky mined more tonnage than Eastern Kentucky. I thought I would never live to see that day.
So where do we go? What do we do to preserve these few coal jobs left in Eastern Kentucky? How do we even hope to gain coal jobs in the future? These questions are the most important questions to all working men and women in Eastern Kentucky. And the answer isn't that simple. Political rhetoric will not do, this time. Neat industry created slogans like "Coal Keeps the Light On" isn't going to do anything for our working families. Our options are limited. Eastern Kentucky simply doesn't have the type of advanced infrastructure to accommodate many forms of advanced business opportunities. Our roads are bad, narrow and steep. Our political infrastructure is so dilapidated and infested with corruption that there is no hope of cross-county-border compromise and or coordination.
Notice I have yet to even come close to answering, or offering a solution, to the "New Plan for Kentucky Coal" because there isn't any solutions, or plans, and if a politician tells you they have one, they are liars. First we have realize that these jobs are likely gone forever. A very small percentage of Eastern Kentucky coal is exported, so concentrating on coal exports really isn't a viable solution unless we find a way to encourage more of it. Pro-Coal politicians must support two particular issues; clean coal technology (and it does exist) and increased exports of coal. This will never result in another huge market boom for coal like we have seen in the past but it may stabilize the region's number one employer (other than the Federal Government).