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Reclaiming Appalachia: A Push to Bring Back Native Forests to Coal Country

It's interesting to watch the progress they've made at the Winslow Hill Elk Area and also the Flight 93 Monument ...

"Such aggressive bulldozing is part of a new and evolving approach to healing forests destroyed by decades of surface coal mining in Appalachia, from Alabama to Pennsylvania. These lands were supposed to have been reclaimed in recent decades under the 1977 federal Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act. But scientists and conservationists say that many of those reclamation efforts were failed or half-hearted efforts that did little more than throw dirt, mining debris, grass, and non-native trees over scarred lands."

"Now, Green Forests Work and other groups are attempting ecological do-overs with the aim of restoring native forests on large swaths of previously reclaimed public and private lands throughout Appalachia. The deep-ripping technique developed by Barton, with support from a team of other scientists, involves uprooting the non-native trees and grasses planted by coal companies and starting the entire land restoration process from scratch."

"At 2,000 acres, Cheat Mountain is Green Forests Work’s largest undertaking since it began operating as a nonprofit in 2013. Barton has partnered with public and private funders to coordinate the planting of more than 2 million trees on 3,300-plus acres in Appalachia. Other former mining sites that it is tackling include a 130-acre plot within the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pa., the former mine site where one of the four hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001; a 110-acre site near Fishtrap Lake in Pike County, Ky.; and a 86-acre area within the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area in eastern Ohio. These and other planned restoration sites are part of an estimated 1 million acres that the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has designated as legacy coal mine sites."

Age of Coal Generating Units, 2008 vs 2015

As recently as 2008, the median coal generating in America was built in January 1966 or earlier. Since implementation of various Clean Air regulations and the switching over to natural gas, the median age of a coal plant in the United States now dates back to 1972. That means 50% of all coal generating units that are still operating today were brought online prior to 1972.

Data Source:
2008 Data is from Source Watch, Age comparison of coal plants, based on 2008 EIA 860 form.
2015 Data is from Energy Information Agency, EIA 860

Change in Number of Coal Mining Jobs from Previous Month, 1997-2017

It is true that the coal mining industry has added jobs since President Trump has taken office -- about 2,100 jobs for a total of 52,100 jobs in the industry. That's about a 4% growth compared to January. But how much does this has to do with the President and how much does it have to do with a recent increase in coal prices? During President Barack Obama's first two years in the White House, the coal industry grew faster then it grew under Donald Trump. If natural gas prices fall again, then coal prices will fall and the sector will sink again.

Data Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, All Employees: Mining and Logging: Coal Mining [CES1021210001], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis;, October 9, 2017.

EPA Chief Announces Reversal Of Obama-Era Curbs On Coal Plants

"The Trump administration will scuttle an Obama-era clean power plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, made the announcement in Hazard, Ky., on Monday, saying the rule hurt coal-fired plants. "The EPA and no federal agency should ever use its authority to say to you we are going to declare war on any sector of our economy," Pruitt said, speaking at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "That rule really was about picking winners and losers," the EPA administrator said, adding that the rule change would be signed on Tuesday. The announcement had been anticipated. It would eliminate the Clean Power Plan that was put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court and therefore never implemented."

In August 2017, there were 51,000 coal mining jobs. That’s up from the 50,200 jobs when Trump took over the White House. But it’s down from August 2015 when there were 63,100 jobs mining coal, and 73,300 jobs in coal mining 15 years ago in August 2001.

Coal is not back.

Coal Mining Jobs Are Down, Fatalities Are Up – Why?

"In the first seven months of 2017 there have been 10 coal-mining fatalities in our country. The year is just past the halfway mark, and there have already been more deaths this year than in the entire year of 2016. As of right now, we are on track to record more coal-mining fatalities this year than in the previous four years. With coal employment being at an all-time low, that can mean a few things: miners are being more careless, companies are cutting back on safety protocol and maintenance, or safety inspectors at both the state and federal level are cutting back on the attention given to each mine."

Google Maps: Producing Coal Mines In America (2014)

You will need to zoom in to view the individual coal mines in each region of country. Warmer color balloons are mines that produced the greatest tonnage of coal in 2014. Click on balloons to see mine name, tonnage produced, underground versus strip mining, and other information about each mine.

Data Source: Energy Information Agency - Coal Mines, Surface and Underground All operating surface and underground coal mines in the United States (2014).

Monthly Coal Production, August 2012-2017

Did President Trump bring back the coal industry? Not really based on this graph. While coal production has seen an uptick compared to 2016, coal production in the United States still remains at a level below production levels seen in 2012, 2013, 2014. Relatively inexpensive gas and the permanent retirement of many coal plants means coal will "never be great again".

Data Source: Coal Production, Total U.S. In million short tons produced in America. EIA Weekly Coal Production Report.

West Virginia governor wants federal incentives to boost Appalachian coal use

Welfare recipients are the worse. They keep demanding more and more taxpayer dollars.

"West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) is proposing a federal homeland security incentive he says would help ensure the security of the Eastern power grid, as well as preserve coal jobs in Eastern states, WV Metro News reports. The proposed incentive would pay utilities $15 for each ton of coal they burn from fields in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The aim would be to provide an incentive for utilities to burn Central Appalachian or Northern Appalachian coal as a safeguard against potential disruptions such as bombings of pipelines or bridge used to transport natural gas or Western coal, according to Gov. Justice. "

Coal Mining Jobs by State

The Energy Information Agency estimates that there was 65,971 coal mining jobs in 2015. Of those jobs, 40,045 were underground miners, while 25,814 strip and mountaintop removal miners.

The largest state for coal mining jobs was West Virginia, where there were 15,490 jobs coal mining, with 5,497 in the northern counties and 9,993 in the southern counties.

Data Source: 2016 Annnual Coal Report, US Energy Information Agency. Table 18 Employment by State.