Easter in Coal Country

April 19, 2017

“The war on coal is over,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told a group of miners in Pennsylvania last week. They survived the eight-year conflict. Many didn’t.

In 2011 the MATS rule took out 33,000 MW of coal based power generation, as EPA unleashed a barrage of regulations that sent the coal industry, already reeling from the shale gas revolution, into steep decline.

Altogether, 51,000 MW were retired between 2010 and 2016 thanks to EPA rules. Without coal based power plants there is no need for coal mines, and without mines you don’t need miners.  This simple syllogism eluded coal’s critics as they denied responsibility for the carnage that regulations caused in coal communities.

But notice what has happened now that peace has been restored and regulations lifted. Coal is slowly recovering.

Production is running more than 16 percent higher than this time last year. Exports are up, jumping in the fourth quarter to 19.3 million tons from 12.6 million in the 3rd quarter. Power plants have drawn down coal stocks dramatically in the past year, steadily increasing their coal burn as gas prices have risen to almost twice the price of coal in the past 12 months.

If coal production is increasing, coal employment can’t be far behind. Appalachian producers just held the first job fair in years, while in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming announced mining employment has stabilized and jobs are beginning to return.

What better time to celebrate the resurrection of an industry many thought was dead?