The nation’s coal mines are closing down so rapidly in the wake of a raft of federal environmental regulations targeting coal that mining employment is now in a “free fall,” according to a new report from a leading industry research firm.
SNL Energy said in a new survey that mining jobs have fallen 8.3 percent to 79,658 on average in the year ending March 31, with 5,700 industry jobs lost just in the last quarter. The figures are based on data provided by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Coal mining jobs peaked at the end of 2011 at 93,084 but have been on a steep decline since then, SNL said. Analysts say that is mostly as a result of a steady stream of regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at curbing toxic pollutants and closing down many of the nation’s aging coal-fired power plants.
Hardest hit is the central Appalachian area, where the plentiful reserves of coal are heavily infused with sulfur and other pollutants targeted by the EPA. Mining jobs have plummeted by nearly 15 percent in the Appalachian region in the last year, while regions like Wyoming and Illinois, with cleaner coal, have added only a relatively few jobs, SNL found.
The job losses to date reflect the effects of past EPA regulations targeting mercury, sulfur and other toxic pollutants. They do not as yet reflect the impact of far-reaching EPA rules issued last week to cut carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, by 30 percent by 2030. Coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of carbon emissions in the U.S. today.
“The employment outlook in the coalfields could get worse” under the latest EPA regulations, the SNL report said, noting the EPA itself has estimated that the use of coal for generating electricity in the U.S. will plunge by 32 percent under the regulations.
The United Mine Workers is estimating that the greenhouse gas regulations will eliminate 75,000 jobs in coal mining, power plants and railroads that transport the coal. That is nearly a third of the 300,000 “direct coal-generation jobs” currently in the U.S, the UMW estimates.