War On Coal? EPA Regulations Boost Coal Employment To 15-Year High

The Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration has increased efforts to regulate the coal industry, using tougher environmental standards under the Clean Water Act to rein in destructive coal practices like mountaintop removal. That has sparked outrage from Republicans across the country and Democrats in coal states like Kentucky and West Virginia, where industry leaders and pro-coal politicians have decried Obama and the EPA’s supposed “war on coal.”

But even as America deals with high unemployment and a sluggish economic recovery, coal employment this year rose to its highest level since 1996, according to data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. In 2011, there were more than 90,000 coal jobs, and the 59,059 Appalachian coal jobs are the most since 1997. According to the same data, the spike in employment correlates to the EPA’s crackdown on destructive mountaintop removal policies, the Charleston Gazette reports:

Matt Wasson, director of programs for the group Appalachian Voices, said his review of the MSHA data shows the number of coal jobs in the region has increased by 10 percent since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began a crackdown on mountaintop-removal mining in June 2009.

“In other words, the idea of a ‘permitorium’ on coal mine permitting that House Republicans are pushing out is completely and demonstrably false,” Wasson said Friday.

As Wasson said, the industry and the politicians it contributes to most have slammed the EPA’s regulatory policies as “job killing” and anti-coal. In reality, however, mechanized practices like mountaintop removal can reduce employment while boosting production and profits. Underground mining, a less destructive form of coal extraction, actually requires more workers than mountaintop removal or strip mining.


The coal industry spends millions each year in advertising and political contributions to disseminate the myth that regulating mining and opposing mountaintop removal is akin to killing jobs. Reality, however, shows that just as in other industries, the opposite is true, and regulations to boost worker safety and environmental protection can actually have a positive effect on job creation. As Appalachian Voices’ Matt Wasson told the Gazette, “The hysterical reaction of coal companies to any and all regulations to protect the safety of workers and communities near their mines is about profits, not jobs.”