W.Va. coal-mining jobs on rise under Obama

May 17, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

There’s no doubt that next week’s taxpayer-funded coal industry pep rally against President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will feature industry officials and their political supporters arguing that the current administration’s policies are killing the coal industry, and putting West Virginians out of work.

Republican political operatives — folks that probably wish Don Blankenship would run for governor — are already gearing up their spin that West Virginia has “fewer coal miners” because of President Obama and EPA.

But over at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, Ted Boettner dares to try to insert some facts into this whole discussion. Writes Ted:

While the Obama administration and the EPA may be taking a harder look at mountain top removal mining permits, a quick look at coal mining employment in West Virginia reveals that since Obama took office in the winter of 2009 coal mining employment has grown by over 1,500 jobs or by 7.4%. If we measure from the end of the national recession in June 2009 (or the 2nd Quarter of 2009) to the third-quarter of 2011 (the latest available data), employment in the coal mining industry has grown by 3,100. For comparison, total employment in West Virginia has only grown by 2.9% over this period.

Here’s the chart, which supports what we’ve previously published in the Gazette on this issue:


37 Responses to “W.Va. coal-mining jobs on rise under Obama”

  1. Observer says:

    How many coal miners in Wset Virginia have been given a pink slip in the last 7+ months? West Virginians are being put out of work.

    I think Ted might want to update his chart.

  2. Miner 2049'er says:

    Observer is correct. Year 2012 has been the year of throttling back and reducing capacity, and while the numbers may not yet be out, it’s premature to draw any conclusions about jobs created or lost, regardless of what the facts show in just three short years since the bottom.

    Increased regulation has a historical trend of increased coal production following its implementation. However, this particular recession (2009) has yet to show that same trend. There are a lot of natural and political forces working against coal presently.

  3. Jeff Altizer says:

    It’s funny Ken, you choose your topics and facts to support your agenda. I wonder if this is the case with the rest of your publication’s outputs?

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    It’s difficult to respond to such questions or comments, when you don’t explain exactly what you think that agenda is, or what exactly is incorrect about what I’ve posted.

    Thanks for your comment, though. Ken.

  5. Jeff Altizer says:

    Caption for the picture: Obama applauds in respect of the hard work by West Virginians to survive, despite his best efforts.

  6. Jeff Altizer says:

    What was incorrect was stated above. Notice the graph ends in Q3 of 2011 and the direct decline immediately when he took office.

  7. Jeff Altizer says:

    Your publication is a pawn in the news media no better than MSNBC or Fox News. You provide biased information instead of am honest reporting of the news.

  8. william says:

    tell that to the workers at bee tree and edwright mines that are going to get laid off i work for alpha natural resources they are cutting out 7 million tons of coal by the end of the year so 1200 people will be laid off

  9. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    I am not sure where that 1,200 employee figure comes from — I’ve seen others throw it around. What I’ve seen from Alpha is that they are idling Bee Tree, which is 63 workers losing their jobs, and cutting back production at Twilight, which is about 70 workers losing their jobs (and 270 still having their positions).

  10. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    The 3rd quarter 2011 data is the most recent available from Workforce West Virginia, http://www.workforcewv.org/lmi/wagedata.htm … and by the 3rd quarter, the employment had increased back to and above the figure when — and before — President Obama took office.

    You’ve not provided anything here to show how anything that’s been reported here is dishonest.


  11. Scott says:

    Your reasoning is a bit off. That steep decline is a result of a little thing called a recession, absolutely nothing to do with increased regulation. We can debate what caused/causes our economic woes, but coal production would be going up if the demand was there-regulations or not.

  12. Matt Wasson says:

    What’s biased is blaming Obama for the declines in early 2009, which you know very well had nothing whatsoever to do with the President, Jeff. You could blame Obama for any declines after the MOU went into effect in Q3 of 2009, but that would be awfully inconvenient for your anti-Obama narrative, wouldn’t it?

    FYI, MSHA just released the first quarter of 2012 employment figures and I’m sure you’ll be disappointed to learn that jobs were up once again for the quarter – In fact, WV had the highest mine employment it’s seen since 1992 in Q1 of 2012. According to MSHA, there were 24,500 miners employed in WV in the first quarter.

    I have no doubt we will see some declines this year, as demand for Appalachian coal has hit the lowest it’s been in… Heck, I don’t even know… Maybe since the 1960s or even possibly since the early 1930s. But any intellectually honest person knows that’s because natural gas prices are at record lows. I suppose you’re going to pin low natural gas prices on Obama as well?

  13. Pam says:

    It’s interesting how there are West Virginians who continue to work against their own interests and perpetuate myths, untruths and plain unhealthy discussions. Where is the discussion on population shifts and WV migration to employment opportunities? Looking at a historical timeline is very revealing as it relates to employment opportunities in West Virginia around the chemical and coal industries. Disaggregating a myriad of data puts reality within its proper perspective. Even a simple graph that relates hard data is suspect by many! That leads me to believe a few things. Two of those things are that some people just don’t want to accept facts illustrated with hard data and they have been subjected to propaganda by industry in WV! Marketing consultants know what to do; what to say; and when to say it to garner public opinion around “their” vision. Remember, these consultants are paid by WV industries and there is a reason for the deception.

    Thank goodness for EPA. At least EPA officials are more concerned about the health and welfare of West Virginia citizens and especially children. They seem to be more concerned than the citizens themselves! How can people not even care about the health of their children? They continue to give industries permission to poison them and their environment. They seem to believe there is no relationship to toxic dumping, fracking and health issues. The fight isn’t with EPA folk but it should be with the unhealthy living and working conditions that big industry has relegated as your life inheritance. Unbelievable!

  14. Ted Boettner says:

    william & Jeff,

    What does Bee Tree and Twilight have to do with Obama? Job losses are because of a reduction in demand, not “EPA” regulation. (http://www.wvnstv.com/story/18311489/alpha-natural-resources-to-idle-two-surface-mines-in-west-virginia)

    The FACES I-64 billboard (up at least 2 yrs) says Obama and the EPA are “destroying” coal mining jobs. How many? We don’t know. FACES can’t name one job that has been ‘destroyed.’ However, what we do know is that there are more coal miners employed in 3Q 2011 than before Obama took office. And we know that today coal production is mostly driven by demand, not regulations. Therefore, it is very difficult for the EPA to destroy mining jobs – unlike a warm winter or a slow down in steel making.

    If it was up to the mining companies, they would produce as much coal as they can with the least number of workers. As venture capitalist Nick Hanauer recently put it: “Anyone who’s ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a capitalists course of last resort, something we do only when increasing customer demand requires it. In this sense, calling ourselves job creators isn’t just inaccurate, it’s disingenuous.”

  15. Phil Smith says:

    As of today, President Obama deserves as much credit for rising coal employment as he does blame for rising gasoline prices. Neither have much to do with his policies or lack thereof.

  16. William says:

    People you don’t understand the power plants that burn coal can no longer do It because of EPA and Obama so that you are going to starting getting layoffs everybody will see how bad it’s be in coal fields

  17. Kevin says:

    Regulation has created many jobs in the coal industry the same as in the power industry. As an example we see colleges teaching the proper way of addressing a problem such as water quality. We see operators who have to implement the design some firm draws up. We see the miners themselves build the retaining ponds, place the plants, and keep the sediment from filling them up. All this in the name of a better place to live and what do we get jobs, good paying jobs. Is the Obama admin going to stop coal mining jobs? No. Do the comapnies who have to hire miners and impliment these regulations want to destroy your jobs? Yes! Simple facts boys and girls, simple truths.

  18. Lisa says:

    Oh, if I could only have a t-shirt made with all of these FACTS on it! I would wear it every day until November!!! So sick of everyone blaming Obama for the decline of the coal industry and/or the high gas prices.

  19. Steve says:

    The headline should read “W.Va. coal-mining jobs on rise under Obama despite his wish to end the use of fossil fuel”. Remember what The President said about coal? Words do have meaning.

  20. Sherry says:

    Your headline is very misleading and incorrect. It says “on the rise”. Coal jobs have definitely declined and they are not “on the rise” currently. Many miners have been laid off this year and are still unemployed. Obama’s EPA continues to overstep and create rules that will devastate the coal industry for many years to come.

    This is almost June of 2012…times have changed!

    Then you have his energy policy, which he just recently changed to include “clean coal”. I’m sure that’s because he was worried about Pennsylvania’s vote..not WV. We’re the last of his concern and surely most can see that.

  21. Sheila says:

    Hundreds were laid off by Pine Ridge, Prenter WV, I know this, my husband was one.

  22. Bill Rainey (the other) says:

    Great job, Ken Ward!

  23. Penny B. says:

    I’m a bit surprised that even when presented with the facts, folks keep finding ways to blame the Obama administration for coal’s woes. Cheap, abundant natural gas is THE threat to coal, as was pointed out by coal industry leaders at the recent Coal Symposium. AEP and other power companies are switching to natural gas as its price is at a record low. And, with the Marcellus and Utica Shale development, it will be abundant and cheap for at least 30-40 years.
    Coal’s future is sealed, but I’m sure we’ll be fighting over the scraps in southern WV while the rest of the nation and world moved on along time ago.

  24. janet says:

    Power plants that have switched to natural gas have saved their utilitiy customers a lot of money. It is much cheaper to transport natural gas by pipeline than it is to transport coal by railroad or truck. Energy costs to transport coal will continue to be a big factor in the total cost of mining coal.

  25. Penny B. says:

    From AEP’s website, highlighting natural gas vs. coal:


  26. bluecanary says:

    Even investment firms are telling folks to get out of central Appalachian coal companies, and it’s not because of Big Bad Obama. It’s because NATURAL GAS is so unbelievably cheap right now, and even if (when) natural gas prices go up, Central Appalachian coal cannot compete against the cost of western coal.

    This is capitalism! Cheaper, better products win in the market. Aren’t we supposed to be in favor of that?

  27. Aaron Staats says:

    The information in this report by TB is not dishonest but it is disingenuous as the reasons for increased coal jobs are not listed. While it is true that coal mining jobs are at levels not seen since the early 90’s, coal exports are the reason as they are also at levels not seen since that time period as well.

    Exports have increased from 50 million short tons (ST) in 2005 to 106 million ST last year while exports have decreased over the same time period from 30 million ST to 13 million ST for a net increase of almost 90 million ST annually. This represents an increase of 50% net exports from 2010 levels and is largely due to increased demand in both Europe and Asia.

    The long term outlook for US Coal production is bleak at best as US consumption is expected to decrease dramatically. According the the Energy Department, increased use of natural gas and Clean Air Act Regulations will result in coal production declining by as mush as 50%.

  28. Aaron Staats says:

    The second paragraph should have read “…while imports have decreased over the same time period…”

  29. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I’m not sure where you’re getting your figures.

    But keep in mind that Ted’s blog post and his figures were strictly about coal-mining jobs at mines in West Virginia.

    You wrote:

    “Exports have increased from 50 million short tons (ST) in 2005 to 106 million ST last year while exports have decreased over the same time period from 30 million ST to 13 million ST for a net increase of almost 90 million ST annually. This represents an increase of 50% net exports from 2010 levels and is largely due to increased demand in both Europe and Asia. ”

    I don’t believe you are citing West Virginia-specific export numbers, so the scale of the comparison really doesn’t make any sense.

    While I don’t have the 2011 export data right to hand, I believe West Virginia’s coal mines exported something like 25 million tons in 2010.


  30. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Here are those numbers,


    As an aside, I don’t believe that Ted intended his blog post to be a be-all, end-all analysis of the coal market in Appalachia. He was simply making the point that the figures don’t back up the notion that any policy of the Obama administration has been killing coal jobs — because in fact coal jobs have increased while Obama has been president.

    Public policy discussion should be grounded in facts. We’ll see if any of the West Virginia political leaders want to actually stick to the facts when they show up at the Coal Forum next week.


  31. Aaron Staats says:

    My numbers come from the Energy Information Administration and from Sourcewatch, a publication of the Center for Media and Democracy, hardly a bastion of conservatism. While I don’t speak for West Virginia politicians, my comments are based on facts.

    And the facts are this. Last year, 17% of West Virginia coal produced, 25,956 million short tons was shipped to foreign consumers. Given that nationally, only ~6% of US coal produced was shipped to foreign consumers so it’s easy to see why West Virginia coal miners saw increased employment.

  32. Ted Boettner says:


    I think exports certainly could be added to the reasons why coal employment increased over this time period, but that says nothing about the canard that Obama is “destroying coal jobs” as Ken points out. As I said in the blog post, Obama deserves virtually no credit for the rise in coal employment.

    I think we all want a better future for our children and want to make West Virginia a better place to live, work and do business. I think this starts by working together to ensure WV has a smooth transition from coal over the coming decades and by correctly indentifying the problem.

  33. Aaron Staats says:

    I didn’t read your blog Ted so I won’t speak of that. My comments were directed to this blog and Ken’s accompanying story in the Gazette as both contained the words “…under Obama.” As the bulk of the comments attest, that most certainly does imply that the President is in some way partially responsible for the increase in mining jobs over the past 4 years. That is simply not the case.

  34. Jeff Altizer says:

    Well Ken I guess your headline worked. You got a pretty good debate going. I was away from civilization for a while and came back to many comments. My conclusion is this:

    While the headline is correct, the undertones to which it was written are not. Obama has made no effort to help coal mining jobs in WV increase. He has, through the EPA on the front-end and back-end of coal mining, tightened the governmental grip on the industry. (front-end = permits for mine sites, back-end = coal burning power plants before gas price decline). In the end the industry will follow the economic cycle and whether you like it or not OUR COUNTRY NEEDS COAL!

    Other civilizations fail because their main resource/competitive advantage runs out; we are going to fail becuase regulate our resources to the point where they are no longer economically viable. May God bless our children and the generations to come for the debt and regulation we will chain them with!

  35. Matt Wasson says:

    While I disagree with your premise and your pessimism, Jeff, I want to legitimately thank you for your comment, as it led me to a genuine epiphany.

    I absolutely disagree with your contention that America’s “main resource/competitive advantage” is our resources like coal – I believe it is our ingenuity and work ethic. But what was so striking was the realization of how much of the difference in worldview between a classic progressive like myself and an economic conservative falls out from our respective beliefs about America’s competitive advantage. It kind of changes everything about what the role of government and educational institutions should be, as they relate to future economic success. Very interesting.

  36. Jeff Altizer says:


    In the mid-century 1900’s I would have agreed with your comment about our competitive advantage. Now, my generation (20-30 somethings) would rather sit behind a computer than pick up a shovel or do any other type of manual labor. (To justify my comment I must include that I am an engineer and I rarely do manual labor but I do not go about my day-to-day activities as I am “to-good” to do a job where I sweat.) In fact, I would do anything to support my family and feed/educate/etc… my children. If that meant flipping burgers or stocking shelves while I looked for a job that suited my resume I would do it. Our unemployment numbers are not (for the most part) because of a lack of jobs but a lack of jobs-I-will-do. This is the main reason for my sentiment.

    Thanks for the respectful disagreement and good conversation.

  37. Van says:

    Please be advised to the effects of milder weather,the low price of gas.This has caused the coal fired plants to buy low sulfur western coal in order to compete with gas units.The power company has also stock piled so to slow demand.This is their way of combating the EPA for not playing ball.They wanted to extend the deadline for compliance from 2015 to 2020.

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