Next week, a state-funded group called the Coal Forum has planned a series of three events targeting what the industry calls Obama's "war on coal."
Meetings in Charleston, Wheeling and Beckley are meant to "increase awareness of the harmful impacts" of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency policies "and to discuss strategies for reversing them." Featured speakers include members of West Virginia's congressional delegation and United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts.
The Coal Forum is an arm of the state Coal Mine Safety and Technical Review Committee, charged by state law with conducting "coal advocacy programs." Lawmakers have given the Coal Forum about $60,000 in state money over the last two years.
West Virginia Coal Association vice president and lobbyist Chris Hamilton, who is co-chairman of the Coal Forum, said he wasn't aware that the number of mining jobs had increased in the state under the Obama administration.
"I did not note that increase when I looked at the numbers I was provided," Hamilton said Thursday. "The employment numbers are good. We're glad to provide gainful employment."
Hamilton noted that coal production in West Virginia and across the region is down so far in 2012, and said geological issues have reduced Appalachian coal's per-miner productivity, and likely played a role in the increased employment.
Since taking office, the Obama administration has sought to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal, and has expressed serious concerns about the growing body of evidence linking the practice to a variety of adverse health effects for nearby residents.
Obama's EPA also has issued the first-ever limits on toxic air emissions from coal-fired power plants, and proposed a rule that would set the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from such plants.
Hamilton said if not for measures like these, West Virginia's coal jobs might have grown even more. But projections by government agencies and others suggest the industry is headed toward a long-term decline.
So far this year, coal production in West Virginia is down about 7 percent over the same period in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.
Earlier this year, DOE projected that annual Central Appalachian coal production -- mostly consisting of Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky -- is expected to drop to about 86 million tons, a decline of nearly 54 percent, between 2011 and 2035.
DOE cited slow growth in electricity demand, continued competition from natural gas and renewable energy, and the need to comply with new environmental regulations. The agency analysis, though, did not include any impacts from EPA's air-toxics rules or greenhouse gas limits, and DOE has said that the Obama crackdown on mountaintop removal is not a major factor in projections for future production declines.
Just last week, DOE projected that electrical generation nationwide from coal would decline by about 15 percent this year over 2011 generation. During the first quarter of 2012, coal's share of U.S. electricity generation dropped to 36 percent, far below the 50 percent still frequently cited by industry supporters.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.