State figures show that coal mining employment in West Virginia is at its highest level since the 1990s.
The Charleston Gazette says a recent analysis of Workforce West Virginia figures by Ted Boettner with the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy shows there were nearly 22,700 mining jobs in 2011. That’s the highest level since 1995.
According to separate figures from the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, there were 22,300 mining jobs in 2011. That’s the highest level since 1993.
“’’Any way you look at it, coal mining employment is at a two-decade high,” Boettner told the newspaper.
But the trend might not continue. The U.S. Department of Energy projects that coal production in Central Appalachia will decline nearly 54 percent, about 86 million tons, between 2011 and 2035. Coal production in West Virginia so far this year is about 7 percent lower than during the same period in 2011.
West Virginia’s coal industry and state political leaders have said mining jobs are threatened by President Barack Obama’s energy policies and the Environmental Protection Agency’s handling of mining-related permits. The EPA has adopted air pollution regulations for coal-fired power plants and sought to reduce the environmental effects of mountaintop removal mining.
But the mine safety office’s figures show mining employment rose by nearly 8 percent from 2009, Obama’s first year in office, and 2011.
Several coal producers that announced recent production cuts, including Alpha Natural Resources and Patriot Coal, cited competition from natural gas, a warm winter and a sluggish economy as the main reasons.