Appalachian Regional Commission Announces Research Series Examining the Impacts of Declining Coal Production on the Region’s Economy

Reports find that dramatic decreases in Appalachia’s coal production over the last decade have put many regional industries at risk for economic change

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 25, 2018—Today, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) released An Economic Analysis of the Appalachian Coal Industry Ecosystem, a new research series examining how Appalachia’s coal industry ecosystem (CIE) is being impacted due to changes in the coal industry. The research—presented in five reports—is the first comprehensive assessment of current and potential effects the changing coal industry can have on the Appalachian Region.

The research explores some of the current and future economic effects of declining coal production on various components of Appalachia’s CIE, including supply chain industries, electric power generation, and transportation, as well as funding implications for K–12 education. The findings of the reports suggest that as effects from declining coal production ripple through the components of the CIE, the impacts will extend far beyond the communities where coal is produced—touching communities throughout Appalachia.

“This research illustrates, with hard data, what many Appalachians in coal communities already know—coal miners, transportation systems, and community resources all take an economic hit when the region’s coal economy changes,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl. “This study can help provide the foundation for identifying opportunities and strategies for building a more resilient regional economy.”

The five reports in this study include:

  • An Overview of the Coal Economy in Appalachia notes that coal production in the Appalachian Region fell nearly 45 percent between 2005 and 2015, more than double the rate of the national decline during the same period. This report outlines how regional coal production losses intersect with regional data on employment and unemployment, population and labor force, income and poverty, and education and health in Appalachia’s subregions.
  • County-level CIE Supply Chain Analysis examines the impact of the decline in coal production on supply chain industries at the county level across Appalachia. This report offers, and uses, a typology to classify counties based on their dependence on the CIE, recent employment changes due to reduced coal production, and their risk for further impacts due to any future declines in the coal industry.
  • Transportation Implications of Coal describes the direct economic relationship between the coal and railroad industries in Appalachia. The report finds that between 2015 and 2016, changing electric generation strategies—including accelerated coal-powered plant retirements—combined with a downturn in coal demand contributed to losses of nearly 2,000 full-time jobs and $150 million in income across Appalachia’s railroad sector.
  • The Economic Impacts and Risks Associated with Electric Power Generation in Appalachia provides a detailed examination of the economic impacts of changes in electric power generation in Appalachia between 2005 and 2015. It finds that while coal represented around 74 percent of total electric generation in Appalachia in 2005, that percentage dropped to 53 percent in 2015. However, despite this decline, Appalachia remains more dependent on coal for electricity generation when compared with the rest of the country. This report also offers a risk factor analysis for coal-fired generation retirements and repowerings, and notes that coal prices have little influence on coal-fired power plant retirement decisions.
  • Human Capital and the CIE explores two economic issues in Appalachia: future employment prospects for coal workers and changes in funding for K–12 education. The first part of the report identifies occupations that may be affected by losses in the coal industry ecosystem and offers state-by-state analyses comparing these impacted occupations to similar occupations in other industries. These analyses suggest other industries where former coal industry workers might find alternative employment opportunities. The second part of the report discusses how the changing coal economy may be impacting public funding for K–12 education at the state and local levels. It finds declines in both per pupil spending and K–12 enrollment in many of Appalachia’s counties that are dependent on the coal industry.

This research was conducted by West Virginia University and the University of Tennessee with funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission through the POWER Initiative, a congressionally funded initiative to help Appalachian communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production.

“This project is among the widest-ranging assessments of the coal industry ecosystem in Appalachia,” said Randall Jackson, director of the project and of the Regional Research Institute at West Virginia University. “This research focuses on how the coal economy has played out in our region, including its direct contributions, its supply chain relations with other industries such as transportation and energy generation, its implications for future industrial development, and the wide-ranging impacts on education and human capital. It offers a valuable foundation for addressing many of the challenges facing Appalachia in the coming years.”

About the Appalachian Regional Commission
The Appalachian Regional Commission is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the Region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.