Kentucky’s coal production and employment both dropped during the third quarter of this year. The state’s eastern coalfields recorded the biggest loss.
From the second to third quarter of this year, Kentucky saw coal production drop 5 percent and shed 439 jobs. But the losses weren’t consistent across both ends of the state. Both production and jobs stayed nearly the same in Western Kentucky, while Eastern Kentucky recorded declines.
This report is the latest in a series that shows a negative trend in the state’s eastern coalfields. Coal mines have been shutting down or furloughing workers in record numbers…most recently, James River Coal announced it would close all of its mines in Eastern Kentucky, laying off 525 miners.
The weak demand for that region’s coal will likely continue. As Appalachian coal reserves get harder to reach, they’re more expensive to mine and new environmental regulations and inexpensive natural gas prices have prompted many utilities to switch away from burning coal.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has decided not to close a coal-fired power plant in western Kentucky. The nation’s largest utility was facing congressional pressure to keep open the Paradise Fossil Plant.
In a vote Thusday, the TVA's Board of Directors decided that one of the three units at the plant in Drakesboro will continue burning coal, while the other units will be converted to natural gas.
“It’s unnecessary and tragic that the Obama administration’s actions have forced utilities to discontinue coal operations at any of these units,” U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement. “I fought hard to prevent these changes and fortunately one of the units will continue to burn coal, saving hundreds of jobs."
In his statement, McConnell also vowed to continue fighting what he called the Obama administration’s anti-coal agenda that threatens the livelihood of Kentuckians.
In a meeting last month with McConnell, TVA President Bill Johnson said several factors, including the current regulatory environment, forced the utility to review the future of the Paradise Fossil Plant. McConnell responded that Muhlenberg County couldn’t take anymore hits, given the upcoming retirement of Kentucky Utilities’ Green River plant in 2016.
Democrat Alison Grimes has joined Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in urging the Tennessee Valley Authority to keep a coal-fired generating plant operating in Muhlenberg County.
Grimes, who is running for McConnell's Senate seat, said in a statement that an upgrade would bring the Paradise Fossil Plant at Drakesboro into compliance with federal standards, while closure would have a devastating economic impact.
McConnell met with Tennessee Valley Authority President William Johnson last week to seek continued operation of the generating plant. TVA is considering whether it should add new emission controls to two coal-fired units that date back to the late 1950s, build a new generating plant powered by natural gas, or take no action.
TVA said in a statement last week that officials are "evaluating all options."
For Democrats running in coal-producing states like Kentucky and West Virginia, the Environmental Protection Agency's new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants provide a carboniferous chance to demonstrate independence from President Obama.
Those Democrats will probably take advantage of every chance they get to separate themselves from the president in voters' minds, since their Republican opponents will be working overtime to portray them as reliable Obama votes if they're elected to Congress.