In October 2022, the United States Energy Information Administration (US-EIA) released its annual coal report which showed a staggering 577 million short tons of coal production in 2021, generating around US$261 billion in terms of total economic activity brought by coal operators in the US. The state of West Virginia accounts for 13.6% of this national coal production.
According to West Virginia University, based on the five-year economic outlook from 2021 to 2025, around 99,000 additional jobs are estimated to be generated by the economic impact of coal production in the US. This number is separate from the 37,300 direct coal mining jobs that will be expected by the end of the year, garnering a total employment impact of 136,300 jobs in the coal mining industry. However, these figures do not necessarily mean that coal production has been stable throughout the years.
“Despite production declines in recent years, coal remains a very important part of America’s economy, as illustrated in our research. Coal continues to support a sizeable share of the nation’s economic output and thousands of high-paying jobs”, said Dr. John Deskins, Director of the West Virginia University Bureau of Business & Economic Research (BBER) reported by the West Virginia Coal Association back in September 2022.
Improvement measures are being planned to increase coal productivity in the coming years. In fact, the domestic demand for US coal has already increased by 20 million short tons in 2022 compared to a significant drop during the pandemic. However, the US-EIA Annual Energy Outlook’s coal production forecast states that coal production is expected to fall by 50 million short tons in 2023.
This alleged decline in coal production does not necessarily translate to a broken promise in terms of employment when it comes to US coal miners. America’s Coal Associations assured that with the economic activity generated from previous years, there is enough avenue for the mining industry to leverage US$ 10.6 billion on national wages in the US with 29,674 jobs in West Virginia, 15,852 in Indiana, 13,735 in Texas, 13,418 in Illinois, 12,266 in Kentucky, 7,027 in Utah, and 3,895 in Montana.
“At a time when energy-driven inflation is weighing heavily on all Americans and electricity grids are being stretched to their limits, the coal industry’s significance has never been greater, providing high-paying direct and indirect jobs for Americans, economic benefits for communities across the country, the fuel for affordable and reliable energy, and metallurgical coal for steelmaking.”, remarked Rich Nolan – incumbent President of the National Mining Association.
In terms of employee compensation, both coal mining and coal-fired power generation are anticipated to give US$43.8 billion, this time including the highest average wages per year compared to all other industries. With this rate, the said industries are obliged to cut US$8.1 billion in order to pay for local and state tax revenues.
According to the December 2022 issue of the Bloomberg Law, even though coal power plants are gradually shutting down due to the transition to renewable energy, projects involving the conversion of shuttered coal power plants into nuclear power plants through small modular reactors (SMRs) are now being seen as an alternative to maximize the sites and generate coal mining jobs.
“Coal plant sites have emerged as places to create jobs and avoid having to build as much new infrastructure. Nuclear developers could leverage existing coal plant land use, transmission lines, cooling water availability, and key permits to reduce costs and shorten construction timelines, reduce environmental impacts, and increase community support”, noted a November 2022 report from the Electric Power Research Institute.
The US Department of Energy Systems Analysis and Integration estimated that around 80% of the closed coal power plants can still be used as potential sites for the conversion to nuclear power plants. Additionally, each plant would produce an average of 650 permanent jobs which means this impact in employment could generate about 92% more in terms of local tax revenue compared to operating an actual coal power plant. Furthermore, an interesting trend in hiring activity for roles in the information technology (IT) sector is also beginning to emerge which could be the next best-paying job in the mining industry. Administrators and Architects for Database and Networks are some of the most popular roles, consuming 40.23% share in the hiring activity in the mining sector.
If the coal mining industry could adapt to the changing business climate of the energy sector, coal mining jobs could still be seen as valuable, as long as there is evident support to maximize the use of coal in the manufacturing of sustainable materials in the US.