Get the facts. Embrace the future. Collaborate.

Cross-posted from KFTC's blog.

by Lisa Abbott

KFTC's friend and ally Matt Wasson at Appalachian Voices has a terrific recent post about the opportunity for organized labor and organized communities to work together for a stronger, healthier economy in Central Appalachia and end the destruction caused by mountaintop removal.

The entire post is worth a close read.

Wasson reflects on the collaboration among many miners and community activists that is on display this week during the March on Blair Mountain. And he offers some advice about what's need for miners, community members and environmentalists to identify common interests and reduce unnecessary and counterproductive conflicts.

His prescription is good medicine: Get the facts. Embrace the future. Communicate regularly and collaborate when possible. 

Wasson backs up his analysis with several graphs explaining important trends in regional coal production and employment.

He points out that mining jobs in Central Appalachia have actually risen in the past three years, despite the poor economy and complaints about the impact on mining jobs of the EPA's enhanced permit review process. As the chart below illustrates, mining jobs in Appalachia are up by more than 4,000 since the start of the recession, and by nearly 2,000 since the EPA stepped up its oversight of surface mining permits in 2009.

jobs in central appalachian coal

Using figures from the Federal Reserve, Wasson also shows that "the capacity of the US fleet of active coal mines has never been higher, while the proportion of that capacity that is actually being utilized has never been lower." In other words, the EPA's careful – and sometimes lengthy – review new surface mines is not a limiting factor when there is so much unused capacity at existing mines.

Coal mine production vs capacity

Lastly, Wasson points to data and recent projections from the Energy Information Administration showing that coal's position in the US electricity market has been on a steady march downward for a quarter of a century. The decline is hardly a recent phenomenon and can't accurately be pinned on actions taken by the Obama Administration to enforce laws designed to protect our air and water.

coal's declining share in US electricity market

Still, these are sobering trends. And they leave us with these burning questions: What could be accomplished if more of us focused on a shared vision, stopped playing the blame game, and worked together for economic transition in the mountains? And isn't it time to try to find out?

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.