This Labor Day, America has 83,000 fewer coal jobs and 400 coal mines than it did when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, showing that the president has followed through on his pledge to “bankrupt” the coal industry.
A 2015 study found the coal industry lost 50,000 jobs from 2008 to 2012 during Obama’s first term. During Obama’s second term, the industry employment in coal mining has fallen by another 33,300 jobs, 10,900 of which occurred in the last year alone, according to federal data. Currently, coal mining employs 69,460 Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Much of the blame for the job losses is targeted at federal regulations aimed at preventing global warming, which caused coal power plants to go bankrupt, resulting in a sharp decline in the price of coal.
“So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted,” Obama said during a 2008 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board. Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also pledged that “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
Employment has fallen so drastically because coal production has fallen by 15 percent since 2008 as companies have been forced by environmental regulation to shut down 400 mines due to decreasing demand. Companies opened 103 new mines in the U.S. in 2013 while 271 coal mines were idled or shut down, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations and cheap natural gas have devastating coal companies as well, even forcing Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, to declare bankruptcy earlier this month. Other American coal companies have faced financial problems too. Arch Coal filed for bankruptcy as well in January and coal companies like Alliance Coal announced mass layoffs.
As a result, many ex-coal miners are unemployed and Appalachian “coal country” has faced very real economic devastation as a result. The coal-producing areas of eastern Kentucky have an unemployment rate of 8 percent unemployment rates and parts of West Virginia have double-digit unemployment.
Even Obama has recognized the economic devastation, and stated that opposition to his policies by coal miners and people in Appalachia is “perfectly legitimate,” during a December interview with National Public Radio. However, the situation for coal miners would likely get worse if Obama’s Clean Power Plan is fully implemented. The EIA predicts the plan would more than double the number of coal plants shutting down over the next five years. The shutdowns have a cascading effect, causing coal production to collapse by more than 30 percent over the next decade.
The Obama administration responded by offering a mere $14.5 million in federal funding for programs to retrain out-of-work coal miners, after imposing regulations that greatly hampered the American coal industry.