A new study has found that trying to revive the coal industry in Appalachia won’t work and may well lead to a slowing of job growth, according to new research based around focus groups and interviews in the region.
While the steep decline in coal industry jobs seen in Appalachia over the last few decades (71% since 1985) has often been blamed publicly on environmental regulations, the new research (as much before it has as well) found that rising costs, rising availability of cheaper sources of energy (natural gas, in particular), and slowing demand for electricity have been the primary drivers of the decline.
The other primary findings of the research are:
- Removing environmental regulations won’t lead to a notable resurgence of the industry.
- False hope is the result of promising coal communities that coal jobs can return with simple, easy regulatory changes — which is counterproductive to local employment levels as it threatens job training and transition programs.
- The most effective path for government support programs would be to “focus on helping communities find and harness new economic and human development opportunities with a focus on health and education, professional growth, and public services.”
The findings are the result of interviews conducted with a variety of coal workers, economic development experts, local religious figures, and others in West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky. Focus groups were also held in Williamson and Ghent, West Virginia — with miners who had been laid off, family members of said miners, and seasonal workers all present. These interviews and focus groups were all held in July 2016.
I’ll end things here with this quote from a former coal miner who took part in the interviews: “I can tell you what my grand-daddy always said: ‘No matter how many times you beat and kick that dead horse, it’s not getting up to plow again.'”
The new study is detailed in a paper published in the journal Energy Research and Social Science.
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