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Coal tonnage falls, but mining jobs rise to total of 94

Coal production in Letcher County fell 46.1 percent for the three-month period ending June 30, but the number coal mining jobs increased by 16.1 percent during the same period.

In its latest “Kentucky Quarterly Coal Report,” the state Energy and Environment Cabinet reports that coal mines in Letcher County produced 94,566 tons of coal during the second quarter of 2018, down from the 175,248 tons produced during the first quarter of the year. Mining jobs in Letcher County rose from 81 at the end of the first quarter to 94 on June 30, the reports says.

Despite the gains made during the second quarter, coal mining employment in Letcher County pales in comparison to neighboring Harlan County, which at the end of June had 955 miners working, the largest number in Kentucky. Pike County lost 61 mining jobs in the second quarter to fall into second place in mining employment with 915 jobs. Perry County mines employed 687 miners at the end of June, while Knott County had 97 miners working.

“Eastern Kentucky coal mines decreased employment by 42 jobs or 1.1 percent on a year over year basis,” the report says. “Western Kentucky decreased employment by 275 or 10.6 percent on a year over year basis. During the second quarter of 2018, Kentucky coal mines decreased total employment by 56 jobs, a 0.9 percent drop from the first quarter of 2018. On a year over year basis, Kentucky coal mines decreased total employment by 4.8 percent or 317 jobs.”

Despite falling behind in mining employment, Pike County remains eastern Kentucky’s largest coal producing county.

“Preliminary data indicate that Pike County remained the top coal producing county in eastern Kentucky during the second quarter of 2018 by mining just under 1.03 million tons, a 12.3 percent decrease from the previous quarter and 6.6 percent decrease from the previous year,” the report says. “Perry County produced 10,000 tons less than Pike County to rank second in coal production in eastern Kentucky. Harlan remained in third in production with just over 800,000 tons.”

Statewide, says the report, “second quarter production declined by 4.2 percent from the first quarter; year-over-year production decreased by 7.1 percent.”

“ Eastern Kentucky decreased output by 9.0 percent from the second quarter of 2017 to 4.1 million tons,” the report adds. “ Western Kentucky decreased output by 5.7 percent to 5.6 million tons. Western Kentucky mines accounted for 57 percent of Kentucky coal production while eastern Kentucky accounted for 43 percent.”

The prolonged slide in mining employment in Letcher County is now in its eighth year. At the end of 2011, there were 1,016 miners employed in 40 active mines across the county — many of them small — that produced a total of 4.5 million tons that year. In the year 2000, Letcher County had a total of 724 working miners who produced a total of 10.021 million tons of coal. That level of production fell by 40 percent by the end of 2006, to 6.3 million tons.

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