In a press release on Tuesday, Appalachian Voices said the average number of coal mining jobs was 15% higher under Obama’s first four-year term than under the eight years Republican George W. Bush was president.
Appalachian Voices released the numbers ahead of attacks expected on Thursday at the confirmation hearing for Gina McCarthy, Obama’s nominee to head the US Environmental Protection Agency.
“Even as this administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are making some important steps toward controlling coal pollution — from mining, burning and burying the waste — the job numbers nationwide have been growing,” said Appalachian Voices programs director Matt Wasson.
While the data showed some variations among coal-producing states, each of the top 10 states had more mining jobs on average under the Obama administration than under the Bush administration, the group noted. Nine of those states saw higher coal mining employment in 2012 than at any point during the Bush years.
Data released last week by MSHA supported the analysis; while there was an overall decrease in the number of mining operations from 14,176 in 2011 to 14,058 in 2012, the total number of miners employed at US operations increased from 381,209 to 387,671.
MSHA confirmed there had been a decrease in the number of mines from 1973 to 1865. Production also followed a downward trend, falling from 1.095 billion tons to 1.017 billion tons year-on-year.
While the number of coal miners decreased from a decades-long high of 143,437 in 2011 to 137,361 in 2012, MSHA revealed the surprising result that it was the second highest for any year since 1994.
Job losses in the West Virginian coal industry have generated a great deal of attention of late, but according to Appalachian Voices’ report, the number of jobs in West Virginia in 2011 and 2012 were the highest the state had seen since 1992.
The group cites an increase in coal exports, an increase in the number of labour-intensive underground mines and a decrease in the amount of coal mined per worker for the rise in employment.
But in its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook, also released on Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) cut its forecast for US coal exports by 3.5% for the year, after receiving more data from the first quarter.
The EIA blamed falling international coal prices and continued economic factors in Europe for reducing its expectations by 4 million tons to 107 million tons for the year, a 15% reduction from 2012.
The West Virginia Coal Association dismissed the Appalachian Voices report in what vice-president Chris Hamilton called “a very shoddy analysis” by a “well-known environmental extremist group”, according to the Washington Post.
Hamilton said he couldn’t predict whether there would be opposition to McCarthy on Thursday but told the Washington Post her hearing provided “ a forum to talk about this agency’s anti-mining bias and its efforts to slow or stop mining in certain parts of the country”
Central Appalachia has lost 4500 jobs since Obama took office, he said, nearly 2500 of them in West Virginia.
Appalachian Voices, however, said the number of coal jobs had grown in Central Appalachia from 28,552 in 2000 to 33,029 last year.
National Mining Association spokeswoman Nancy Gravatt told the Washington Post that the Obama administration had nothing to do with the favorable export situation and the Environmental Protection Agency’s new air quality regulations were only beginning to affect the industry now.