A new report from Standard & Poor’s found that the number of coal jobs in the United States has fallen by nearly 50 percent from its peak in 2011.
The report found that the hardest hit communities were Boone County, WV; Pike County, KY and Campbell County, WY.
The statistics confirm the difficulty that many in the industry have struggled with as the price of coal hit a 30-year low. But the numbers might also suggest that coal companies are adjusting to a new normal, finding a balance with fewer employees and lower production, the report said.
There is uncertainty about whether the drop in employment in places like Campbell County is a short- or long-term phenomenon. The issue hinges on whether this bust is a temporary dip in the commodity cycle or a permanent shift in the way the U.S. receives its electricity, The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.
Future restrictions on greenhouse gases underline the fact that coal will face more than just a market battle in the coming decades. That will cut into profits and pose a risk to communities that rely on coal for their livelihoods.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration projections of how coal will weather the Clean Power Plan are not promising.
Under the plan, the administration reports, coal production in the West will decrease by 140 Mt (155 million st) between 2015 and 2040.
Powder River Basin coal, which benefits from its low mining costs and low amount of sulfur, accounts for about two-thirds of that production.
Last year, the West accounted for 55 percent of the nation’s coal production. Under the Clean Power Plan, that could drop to 52 percent.
Moreover, natural gas continues to be a major competitor for coal, both in terms of emissions and its relatively cheap price thanks to new drilling technologies, analysts say.
Despite market pressures, Campbell County remains the strongest producer of the 25 counties in the report, with 46.5 Mt (51.3 million st) of coal mined in the second quarter of this year.
That’s approximately half what was mined in the fourth quarter of 2011.