HAZARD – More than 4,000 coal industry jobs were lost in Eastern Kentucky last year, according to new state data, leaving one organization to call for new ideas for regional development.
Numbers from the Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence show Eastern Kentucky coal production in 2012 dropping 27.9 percent to its lowest level since 1965, translating to a loss of 4,068 jobs in the region.
These figures should make it apparent that Eastern Kentucky’s economy, which has traditionally relied on a robust coal industry, needs to move in a different direction that includes other types of industry, said Justin Maxson, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development.
“We recognize the serious hardship that these layoffs mean for many workers and communities in the region. It is abundantly clear that Eastern Kentucky needs strong leadership and more focus on growing a different economy,” Maxson said in a statement released on Wednesday. “Piecemeal investments and disjointed policies are not real solutions. Eastern Kentucky has many of the building blocks for a stronger, homegrown economy – through strategies like entrepreneurship, and more support for sectors like forestry, agriculture, tourism, health care and energy efficiency to name a few – but they require real investment and forward looking leadership.”
Much of Eastern Kentucky’s loss in coal production resulted from of a lack of demand due to companies switching to natural gas as an energy source. Additionally, advances in pollution control technology at coal-fired plants allowed for the increase of production and use of higher sulfur coal mined in the Western Coalfields.
Western Kentucky production, in comparison, increased 2.5 percent to 42 million tons, eclipsing the rate of production in Eastern Kentucky for the first time since 1960. Average employment in Western Kentucky remained flat.
Perry County ranked as the third largest producer of coal in Kentucky in 2012, according to state data, with 9.2 million tons. Even still that represents a drop of 30.1 percent over the previous year. Mining employment in Perry County decreased by 628 jobs during the year to 1,530.
Production in Pike County, which annually ranked as the top producer of coal in the state, dropped nearly 18 percent, with a decrease in employment of 28 percent. Knott County lost nearly 700 mining jobs in 2012, dropping 63.2 percent to only 330 employees.
Significant drops in employment were also seen in the eastern counties of Harlan, Martin, Leslie, Letcher, Floyd, and Bell.
Union County, located in Western Kentucky, became the state’s largest producer of coal in 2012 with an increase of 9 percent to 13.4 million tons.